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Steelers lose to Patriots, need better backup plan at quarterback

The Steelers have had a hard enough time beating Tom Brady and the Patriots with Ben Roethlisberger.

So with Roethlisberger sidelined Sunday, the Patriots’ 27-16 win at Heinz Field isn’t exactly a jaw dropper.

Landry Jones did his best. So maybe, as Stuart Smalley would say, the Steelers’ latest loss to the Patriots is “OK.”

After all, how should a team be expected to win without its starting quarter …

Wait a minute.

The Patriots started the season 3-1 with Brady serving his Deflategate suspension. The Steelers are 2-3 in their last five full games without Roethlisberger going back to last season. Sunday’s loss was their second straight.

If the Patriots can keep their season on track without their starting quarterback, why can’t the Steelers?

There was a time when the Steelers did just what the Patriots have done this season. In 2010, they went 3-1 with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch while Roethlisberger was suspended for his personal conduct.

And unlike the 2016 Patriots, who sputtered in the fourth game and lost 16-0 at home to Buffalo, the Steelers were a minute away from going 4-0 in 2010. The Ravens won 17-14 on a last-minute comeback at Heinz Field.

What a great year 2010 was. We weren’t sick of Facebook yet, we were serenaded by vuvuzelas during the World Cup and the Patriots went without a playoff win for the third straight year.

It was a time when the Steelers still had a chance to match the Patriots’ run of success in the 20th century. But we can only look back at it with nostalgia now because that time is long gone.

Batch is also long gone, and Jones is the only quarterback the Steelers have drafted since 2011. The Patriots, meanwhile, have drafted three quarterbacks during that time. They took Jacoby Brissett in the third round this year and Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014. The two of them shared the fill-in duties while Brady was suspended, with Garoppolo winning two games and Brissett winning one as a rookie.

The other quarterback the Patriots drafted during that time, Ryan Mallett, isn’t helping them much but did beat the Steelers last year in Baltimore, nearly knocking them out of the playoffs.

Not only have the Patriots drafted more quarterbacks than the Steelers in the last six years, they’ve drafted them in the third round or earlier. The Steelers took Jones in the fourth round in 2013, and he couldn’t surpass a retread like Bruce Gradkowski on the depth chart.

Brady is five years older than Roethlisberger, so it behooves the Patriots to stock up on possible successors. However, Roethlisberger’s health might make him a little older in football years. He’s been sacked 450 times in his career, on 7.4 percent of his pass attempts. Brady has been sacked 406 times, with those sacks coming on only 4.9 percent of his passes.

Roethlisberger has taken a beating in his career and it’s starting to catch up with him. Jordan Phillips‘ foot grab last week at Miami seemed pretty innocuous compared to times when he’s been bent and twisted like a pretzel and kept on going. But Phillips did enough to tear Roethlisberger’s meniscus. Perhaps at 34 Roethlisberger can’t take the licks he used to be able to take.

Yet the Steelers don’t have a succession plan at quarterback.

Jones isn’t the only reason the Steelers lost Sunday. Sure, he threw one interception and probably should have been intercepted at least three more times. But the Steelers committed 10 penalties for 85 yards. They had a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter called back because of a holding penalty by backup right tackle Chris HubbardChris Boswell missed a 42-yard field goal and was foolishly asked to kick a 54-yarder in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers stopped Rob Gronkowski for a half, but that’s not enough. There should be a “not enough” drinking game at Mike Tomlin’s press conferences, because he’s uttered those words an awful lot over the past two weeks.

Tomlin is no Stuart Smalley.

The defense and the coaching staff should share the blame with Jones for the Steelers’ loss. But at the same time, Jones is no heir to Roethlisberger.

It would help if Jones had a defense to carry him, but the Steelers are 14th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. They haven’t ranked that low in the latter category since 1988. The Steelers were 5-11 that year, their worst season since Chuck Noll went 1-13 in 1969 before turning the franchise around.

Not that the situation is in danger of getting as bad as it was in 1988. The Steelers (4-3) still have a one-game lead over the Bengals and Ravens and a win over the Bengals in the AFC North.

If Roethlisberger is out a worst-case scenario six weeks, that’ll be four more games. While they almost never beat Brady, they have set a precedent for winning at Baltimore with backup quarterbacks and the Ravens are very beatable this season. The Steelers visit the Ravens in Week 9 after the bye. Then they host Dallas, go to Cleveland and then four days later play at Indianapolis on Thanksgiving night.

If they can somehow split those games, they’d be 6-5 and possibly still leading the division with Roethlisberger returning for the last four games.

If Roethlisberger comes back sooner, well that would be “OK” too. But while Roethlisberger recovers from his injury, Steelers scouts better be taking a long look at college quarterbacks, because the time has come for the Steelers to start thinking about the future at the position.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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2 comments

  1. Mike Batista

    I think the operative word in the title of this article is “plan.” I don’t think I come down too hard on Landry Jones himself. It’s just that the Steelers have not been drafting quarterbacks. They need to be drafting QBs the way the Patriots have in recent years. The Patriots are a lot more prepared for life after Brady than the Steelers are for life after Roethlisberger.

  2. millikensteeler

    I disagree. The difference between Landry the first two years and now is like night and day. He had at the minimum, two touch downs and the second was wiped away because of holding.

    Between injuries on the offence, Wheaton out, Coates hurt etc, he did a pretty good job. Did he play perfect? no however, he was juts under two hundred yards at the half and then they went a bit conservative with him in the second. He did what you expect a back up qb to be able to do and that’s compete.

    If the Steelers gave up on him after watching him develop from year one to now? That would be a waset and Mettenberger, Is not a better qb than Landry.

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