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Mack: Careful What Ben Wishes For

With Haley gone, Roethlisberger may revert to freewheeling ways

Chris Mack
September 11, 2018 - 11:39 am
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Careful what you wish for, Steeler Nation. 

You just may get it.

Ben Roethlisberger got exactly what he wanted. And the question now is whether he, new Offensive Coordinator and Big Ben confidant Randy Fichtner, or Head Coach Mike Tomlin will have to step in and keep Roethlisberger from trying to prove that he can play the same kind of game as he did 10-15 years ago.

For six seasons, under former Offensive Coordinator and noted Roethliserger antagonist Todd Haley,  'The Old Cowboy' - Roethlisberger's self-anointed nickname - was contained. He was directed away from his more impulsive urges, at least on the field. The five lowest sack totals of Roethlisberger's career came in his six seasons under Haley. Four of Ben's five biggest TD seasons also came under Haley. And perhaps most importantly, the quarterback made 85 starts in the Steelers' 96 games, remaining healthy despite advanced age and decreasing mobility..

Which brings us back to the new dynamic in the offensive meeting room on the South Side. 

There are no more shackles on Roethlisberger. No more Haley to ask him in film review why he decided to try and extend a play to chuck a ball down field when he had an open check down available. No challenge from a coach wanting answers as to why a strip sack took place well after the football should have been out of the QB's hands. There's no Haley there to try to carry out the ownership mandate of extending the career of a quarterback who's still just as likely at times to play as recklessly as he was to live recklessly when he was younger. Just Fichtner, who owes his promotion to Offensive Coordinator as much to his relationship with Ben as his ability to lead and strategize on gameday.

That's not a knock on Fichtner, it's just the truth.

It's also not a rubber stamp on Haley's time here in Pittsburgh. We all know the team's abysmal performance in the red zone more often than not under Haley was inexcusable. 

Will a return to the days of free-wheeling Ben be a good thing for the Steelers' offense? Without Le'Veon Bell, still in search of a tight end to provide that all-important checkdown option, and in a torrential downpour, Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times, misfiring or miscommunicating in several instances with his receivers, and getting no help from Jesse James on one of his interceptions that went directly through the tight end's hands.

We were also treated though, to a 15-yard scramble for a first down in the 2nd quarter, punctuated by a stiff arm of Browns' defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun that was reminiscent of young Ben. However, it's also not a play you want your 36-year old, eventual Hall of Fame quarterback pulling off all that often. The same goes for a pair of fumbles that were resultant of Roethlisberger's desire to extend plays when, in the past, he may have had Haley on the sideline waiting to remind him that discretion is the better part of valor.

After reviewing game tape, he wasn't willing to believe he could have done anything differently on either of those two turnovers, though.

"It had nothing to do with holding on to the ball too long or taking a sack," Roethlisberger told Cook & Joe on Tuesday morning of those two strip sacks. "You can't take a sack when a guy's coming behind you [and you] don't know he's coming. On those particular plays, it was irrelevant."

After one game, as disappointing as the result may have been, it's difficult to say which aspects of the Steelers' tie in Cleveland were aberrations and which were portending of future trends.

One thing is for sure, though. If you're hopeful that Ben Roethlisberger will start running around and playing sandlot football again as he once did, be careful what you wish for.