Mark Madden: Ben Roethlisberger is Steelers’ only hope Sunday
Sunday’s biggest football game is Liverpool vs. Manchester United. Would I trade a Steelers loss to New England for a Liverpool victory over the Mancs? You don’t want to know that answer. But enjoy these refreshing Steelers notes.
• The Steelers’ lone chance to win Sunday depends on Ben Roethlisberger. Defense and special teams are lost causes. The coaching is out to lunch. The receivers are top-notch but obviously depend on Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger isn’t the best hope. He’s the only hope. It’s not about outplaying Tom Brady. It’s about Roethlisberger being better than his defense is bad, and that defense is playing against Brady.
• Roethlisberger has thrown 13 interceptions, drawing criticism for his gunslinger mentality. That’s too many picks, but it would be nice if the Steelers defense gave Roethlisberger a short field occasionally. If the defense had the NFL’s median number of takeaways (19), they would be minus-2 in turnovers. But they have just 13, and are minus-8. In light of that, maybe Roethlisberger should take less risk.
• Question: Why was there so much hype for Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 4 and so little for Brady vs. Roethlisberger now? Answer: Because Rodgers is badly overrated by the national media, Roethlisberger badly underrated. Especially this year, when the latter has kept an average team afloat and the former couldn’t.
• The Steelers kept Chris Boswell to save money and avoid eating his cap hit, not because he’s the kicker who gives them the best chance to win. (Kai Forbath reportedly had an excellent audition Wednesday.) That’s a move straight out of Bob Nutting’s playbook. It’s not a good look for the Steelers, especially after saving $14.5 million when Le’Veon Bell decided to not play.
• The tryout for kickers was a charade. Boswell’s participation guaranteed he would be kept. It was a waste of time for the other kickers, Forbath and Matt McCrane.
• Shaun Suisham has been hired to work with Boswell. Boswell replaced Suisham in 2015 when the latter was hurt. So the kicker who lost his job is coaching the kicker who took it. Suisham never missed an extra point in 71 games with the Steelers. Boswell has missed five this season. Perhaps the teaching could start there.
• The Steelers defense is rotten, and it’s not about coaching. They have just 4-5 players who could start for a solid NFL defense. The great unwashed thinks coaching and scheme can remedy. But what scheme could the Steelers use that makes up for an abject lack of talent at linebacker and defensive back? Except for T.J. Watt and Joe Haden, all those players stink. That’s why firing defensive coordinator Keith Butler at season’s end shouldn’t be automatic. You can’t shine excrement. Consider also the reports that Mike Tomlin often commandeers the defense, usurping Butler.
• Veteran NFL linebackers coach Jim Herrmann assisted the Steelers in practice. That makes one wonder about the usefulness of current ‘backers coaches Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, and if Herrmann will replace one. Or replace Butler.
• Tomlin’s defenders often cite his impressive regular-season record. When did Pittsburgh become a regular-season town?
• Yanking Mike Hilton (5-foot-9, 189 pounds) in favor of Jordan Dangerfield (5-11, 198) because Dangerfield’s extra two inches and nine pounds will enable the Steelers to better deal with the size of New England tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6. 265) seems a reach. Hilton has been the regular at nickel dating to 2016. He’s a proven quality. But anything’s worth a try, because Gronkowski figures to decimate the Steelers. They don’t have a player or scheme that can reasonably handle Gronkowski.
• Cornerback Artie Burns will reportedly start. That won’t make Steelers fans flush with optimism. But Burns has talent. He should be hungry after playing just 11 defensive snaps over the past seven games (including one in the past four).
• The “explanations” from Tomlin and Roethlisberger regarding the latter missing four series at Oakland served to confuse, not clarify. That was the intent. Blaming an X-ray machine was savvy. Inanimate objects can’t talk, let alone refute.
• Recently in this space, I said the Steelers should consider firing Tomlin. That got me mentioned by Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports and on ESPN’s “First Take.” Cowherd agreed with me. Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman of “First Take” did not. But who cares what they think? Getting plugged on national TV is awesome.
Mark Madden hosts a sports show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).