During his regular Tuesday appearance on a local radio station, Ben Roethlisberger didn't rule himself out of Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. A couple of hours later at his weekly news conference, Coach Mike Tomlin came close to ruling him out when he said the "prudent" approach is to prepare to play with Landry Jones while also getting Mike Vick ready.
"We are evaluating Ben Roethlisberger. He is continuing to be evaluated today," said Tomlin. "We will leave the door ajar for him, but it's just slightly ajar. I think it's prudent that we anticipate playing without him and preparing to play with Landry Jones. I know that's what we are thinking right now as a staff as we prepare. We will let Ben go through his process and will continue to communicate with Ben and our medical staff. But from a planning structure standpoint, much like it was a couple of weeks ago, we are preparing to play with Landry. We are also preparing to get Mike Vick ready."
Roethlisberger sustained what has been reported as a mid-foot sprain during the second half of the Nov. 8 game vs. the Oakland Raiders, and the estimates of Roethlisberger's absence from the lineup have been in the range of "a few weeks," a range that even if ultimately adjusted is virtually certain to include the upcoming game vs. the Browns, which means the Steelers will use the week to get Jones ready for a job he already has been asked to perform once this season. And the expectation for his performance is simple:
"I want to see him win," said Tomlin. "I'm not worried about style points. You can get lost worrying about style points and quality of play. I want him to do what's required for us to win. When you make it that black-and-white, it makes no bones about what is expected to allow him to have a crystal clear focus about what it is he needs to do, and how he needs to remain in spite of things that may occur or will occur."
In an interview done last week in advance of the game against the Raiders, Tomlin provided some insight into what he believes Job. No. 1 should be in virtually every circumstance.
"When Ben was down – particularly in the games when we were successful – we made a conscious effort to take care of the ball even at the expense of being dynamic offensively, or even being interesting," said Tomlin. "We can't be afraid to punt it. If we take care of the football, that's usually a good recipe for us."
In his one start plus close to two halves combined in relief of Vick and Roethlisberger, in the games against Arizona and Oakland, respectively, Jones attempted 47 passes. Twenty-eight were complete for 456 yards, and his two interceptions both came in his start against the Chiefs in Kansas City in notoriously loud Arrowhead Stadium. This time Jones' start will come at Heinz Field where he should be able to expect the fans to be more cooperative when the Steelers offense is on the field.
"We're not going to find comfort in that," said Tomlin about the venue. "We like to base our feelings on performance and preparation. Landry is going to get another week to prepare, and so it's reasonable to expect him to be better than he was the last time out regardless of game location."
Because Jones will be playing in his fourth career regular season game, none of them before Oct. 18, there also is reason to expect him to be able to execute a bigger chunk of the things that are in the typical game day repertoire for Steelers quarterbacks, such as operating the no-huddle in situations other than at the end of each half.
"That's to be determined as we prepare this week," said Tomlin when asked if Jones could be allowed to do that against the Browns. "We're not opposed to it. Nobody has accumulated more preseason snaps in 2015 than Landry Jones. He has done a lot, he has done a lot of no-huddle. He's new to playing in regular season games, but he's not new to us or new to our system of football. We'll let production over the course of the week be our guide in terms of utilization of that and every other aspect of our offense."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We're evaluating Ben. He's continuing to be evaluated today. We'll leave the door ajar for him, but it's just slightly ajar. I think it's prudent that we anticipate playing without him and prepare to play with Landry Jones, and we're also preparing to get Mike (Vick) ready. Matt Spaeth can be characterized as out again this week with inflammation in his knee. We have some guys who could miss some time early in the week and really affect their preparation, which ultimately could affect their play. Ryan Shazier has swelling on his knee. DeAngelo Williams has some inflammation in the middle of his foot. He's probably going to miss (Wednesday's work). James Harrison has swelling in his right knee swell. We're going to watch those guys and watch them closely. They could be limited throughout the course of the week and definitely Wednesday. We had some guys who came back from injury who performed well and didn't experience any negative repercussion of their participation – Stephon Tuitt, Will Allen, and we anticipate Terence Garvin again being out this week, still dealing with his high ankle sprain."