The Steelers will host the Detroit Lions this Saturday night for their third preseason game. Assuming he follows tradition, Steelers head coach will use this game as his tune up for the regular season. Translation: The Steelers starters will play.
“Starters” likely includes Ben Roethlisberger.
That’s a smart move by Mike Tomlin, although others disagree. This sentiment is common, but a single quote from Mark Kaboly sums up the mentality. In stating his case that Dwayne Haskins deserves time again opposing 1st string QBs, Kaboly argues:
Why not give him a shot against the Lions? Roethlisberger doesn’t need to play in a preseason game. Give Haskins a full first half against a team that will be playing its second preseason game. [Emphasis added]
It is funny. “Practice makes perfect” is one of the first things you drill into a kid’s head the moment he or she starts training for something, be it a football, some other sport, dancing, karate or learning to play a musical instrument. We tell our kids that because it is true.
But that truth is too often betrayed by the mentality that, once you reach a certain level or age, you no longer need to practice. Really? In a previous life I hosted scores of technology focused webcasts. As the pandemic has shown Zoom, Teams and GoTo Meeting are wonderful tools, but things happen.
And you know what? When “Things happened” during those webcasts the presenters that had practiced still gave good webcasts. The ones that hadn’t? Not so much.
- But we don’t need to stick to the abstract with the Steelers.
Recent history offers a guide. Rewind to the Steelers 2019 opening day debacle against the Patriots. Writing in Steel City Insider, Craig Wolfley offered:
Patriots ball, first drive it’s third-and-10. Brady rears back and fires the ball over the middle, and one-hopped it to Julian Edelman, incomplete. Yes, I’m thinking, Brady had under 25 live snaps or so in preseason games. He’s a little bit off. Brady needs to ramp up to game speed. Little did I realize Brady would need a very short ramp.
Wolf was right. Brady needed little ramp to reach Super Bowl form that night. Roethlisberger was “rusty,” put generously, the entire night. But contrast to Brady, Roethlisberger had only thrown 13 passes in the 2019 preseason. In other words, Ben had ½ the work that Brady did.
- Anyone think now or think then that Ben was the superior quarterback? Mean either.
“But wait! That’s not a fair comparison because Ben was only a few passes away from needing major elbow surgery!” you protest. Yes. I concede. You’re right.
And that brings me to my next point.
Steelers Need to See What They Have in Big Ben
Mark Kaboly followed his article on the QB competition between Haskins and Mason Rudolph with a feature on the 90 passes Ben Roethlisberger threw in a day of practice. Kaboly’s article is excellent. He delivers readers the type of “Fly on the Wall” view of Steelers practice viewed through the lens of an experienced beat writer.
Kaboly’s article yields 2 clear take aways:
1. Mike Tomlin is clearly trying to preserve wear-and-tear on Ben Roethlisberger
2. Ben Roethlisberger is throwing a lot of interceptions
Kaboly isn’t the only beat writer to share this observation about interceptions. Jim Wexell has mentioned interception several times this summer already and admits he’s “concerned.” Now stir in the fact that the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator, a new running back, and a new offensive line.
Even under normal circumstances, this group needs to maximize time working together in “live fire” conditions. Coaches need to see if this unit can function cohesively as a team.
- Intra squad scrimmages are nice, but there’s no substitute for the crucible of live competition.
And should that crucible reveal Ben Roethlisberger as the weak links in the chain, then there’s no benefit to waiting until September to find out.