The quarterback of a football team has the most difficult job in all of team sports. And at the professional level of the sport, the quarterback has the most important job on the team, because while there can be occasions when the group is able to overcome a poor performance by an individual, when the individual who's performing poorly is the quarterback, well, there are few more direct paths to defeat.
The Steelers were taken down that path to defeat yesterday by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and those who watched it happen undoubtedly left with the impression that Ben Roethlisberger performed poorly and that the offense was the No. 1 culprit in the outcome. There are other adjectives that can be used to describe an afternoon when Roethlisberger had five passes intercepted and two of those five were returned for touchdowns in a game the Steelers lost by 30-9, but they would simply be meaner versions of "poor."
Complicating this situation is that this has been more of a trend than a one-off bad day. The Steelers offense has been underachieving all season, and this has come at the start of a season in which the unit was expected to be a dominant one, a unit capable of carrying this team to a championship. But through the first five games of this season, the Steelers offense has been much more the albatross than the engine driving this team, and the only consistently productive member of the unit so far has been Antonio Brown.
Back in late July as NFL training camps were opening, the strength of this Steelers offense was supposed to lie in its multiple and diverse set of weapons, coupled with a legitimate franchise quarterback serving as the triggerman. Against the Jaguars yesterday, and through the first five games of the season, however, the reality has been the exact opposite.
Using the game against Jacksonville as an example, Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards, but Roethlisberger targeted him 19 times in order to get those 10 completions. Martavis Bryant, who was supposed to be a dynamic down-the-field receiver for this team, caught five passes for 21 yards, and this was a guy seen as capable of averaging nearly 21 yards per reception. Le'Veon Bell, a running back with wide receiver capability, caught an impressive 10 passes, but those netted a total of 46 yards, which was one fewer yard than he managed on the ground on 15 carries.
And the offensive line that was supposed to be the catalyst of it all, the offensive line made up of two first-round picks and a second-round pick, wasn't able to assert itself against a defense that came in to the game ranked last in the NFL against the run, nor was it able to deal with the Jaguars' defensive strength – putting pressure on the passer to create takeaways.
Finally, the plan was as bad as the execution of it. Lots of sideways passing, lots of check-downs, not enough of a commitment to force the Jaguars to play to their weakness, and too much moving of the ball without getting it across the goal line. In addition to the already mentioned individual statistics, the unit was 0-for-3 in the red zone and 0-for-1 in goal-to-go situations. And if there was a sequence to summarize the offense's futility in this game, it came on back-to-back plays late in the fourth quarter at a time when the Steelers were trailing by 14 points.
On the first of those plays, Roethlisberger threw a pass that Brown caught in the end zone for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty on David DeCastro. On the next play, Roethlisberger threw his fifth interception of the game.
Where the fault lies for this current disconnect between potential and production will fuel sports talk shows for weeks, and there really isn't a wrong answer. Chuck Noll always preached that "when you lose, whatever they say about you is true," and the Steelers not only lost to the Jaguars but their offense was exposed as a rumor at best and a fraud at worst.
In the game's immediate aftermath, Roethlisberger stood there and pointed the finger directly at himself, but accountability, while admirable, doesn't fix the problem or deal with the reality of the situation.
The problem is that the Steelers offense is a negative right now in that it's a unit the team has to overcome in order to win a game. The quarterback isn't playing well, and his support group isn't doing enough to help the situation. The offensive line is underperforming, and the guys who were supposed to serve as weapons in the arsenal have been nothing of the sort. The unit has no identity right now, and there seems to be nothing that can be counted upon from one week to the next. The stated goal of 30 points per game is laughable at this point
Those are the problems, and the reality of the situation is that there are no magic solutions, no heroes waiting in the wings. The job is going to have to get done by the men currently in the team's employ, or they will fail together.
What a waste that would be.