AFC Notes: Tomlin, Big Ben, Ravens, Texans

The Steelers announced Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will start in Week 17 against the Browns as Ben Roethlisberger rests up for the playoffs, but that isn’t the only quarterback question lingering over the franchise. Big Ben’s play fell off dramatically after the early part of the season, which has understandably led to some questions about the 38-year-old’s future. We heard just last week that Roethlisberger was planning on returning for 2021, the final year of his contract, but it might not be entirely up to him. Interestingly, head coach Mike Tomlin “will play a critical role in however Pittsburgh moves forward” at quarterback, sources told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has indicated he could be headed for retirement soon, potentially giving Tomlin even more power here. La Canfora writes that the team is putting off these questions to the offseason, but while he cautions the team isn’t talking too much about Roethlisberger’s decline internally, it sounds like a lot of it will come down to what Tomlin wants to do. Obviously Tomlin and Big Ben have a close bond, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll immediately toss him aside, but “he will have a significant voice in the composition of the quarterback room in 2021,” La Canfora writes. Assuming Roethlisberger comes back, that could mean that Tomlin has more of a direct role in acquiring a potential successor. The 25-year-old Rudolph was serviceable at times last year, but also struggled mightily at others. He hasn’t shown much to inspire confidence that he can be a franchise quarterback. It’ll be a very interesting offseason in Pittsburgh.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Ravens dealt with a brutal COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of their season, and the league has determined they were partially at fault. The NFL has slapped Baltimore with a $250K fine for protocol violations, as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk writes, although they were not docked a draft pick like the Saints were. New Orleans lost a seventh-rounder, Las Vegas forfeited a sixth-rounder, and the Titans were fined $350K, so this is actually on the lighter side of COVID punishments. In a separate piece, Florio writes that strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders was the previously unnamed coach who was suspended for his role in the outbreak. Saunders is now back in the building with his job back after serving a suspension of about a month.
  • The Texans have a lot of work to do this offseason, most notably finding a new coach and GM after the firing of Bill O’Brien. Houston owner Cal McNair reportedly wants Deshaun Watson‘s input on who the next coach will be, but the team apparently isn’t in any rush to make a hire. That’s because the Texans do not intend to take advantage of the new NFL rule that would allow them to interview head coaching candidates currently on staff with other teams before the season ends, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports. Instead Houston is sticking to their plan of hiring a GM before a coach. They have however been interviewing candidates not currently with a team, including Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell recently. There have been murmurs that Watson would like Eric Bieniemy, who obviously is still currently employed by the Chiefs, so that interview won’t be happening immediately.
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33 comments on “AFC Notes: Tomlin, Big Ben, Ravens, Texans

  1. leefieux

    No matter what happens in ‘the QB room’, once Ben leaves or retires, there are gonna be some dark QB days ahead. QBs like Ben don’t grow on trees. Look how long it took to get Bradshaw’s ‘heir apparent’.

    • Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomszack, Kordell Stewart, the list goes on.

      • leefieux

        They were QBs who had the occasional good year, but none were even remotely close to Ben and Bradshaw.

        • Ak185

          Brady is also playing on the most loaded team in the league. Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cam Brate as options is a whole different look than Chase Claypool, Deionte Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eric Ebron over the course of the season. If Brady didn’t throw at least thirty touchdowns with that group and Arians’ aggressive style, it would have been a huge disappointment.

          And while the Saints are good, the AFC North is a better division than the NFC South. I don’t think it’s accurate to compare Brady to Roethlisberger on a pure numbers basis.

      • louwhitakerisahofer

        Yes, age is overrated. But t he abuse that Ben took extending plays early in his career isn’t. In Tom Brady years, Ben is 64 years old.

    • madmanTX

      It didn’t help that Pittsburgh managed to be mediocre a lot after Bradshaw left and they couldn’t draft high. Then, they made poor draft decisions, like passing on Dan Marino in 1983.

      • gozurman1

        Not hard to understand why the Steelers passed on Marino in that draft. They did not think Bradshaw’s career was over yet because of his injury. Them main reason was, they were still looking for,a,replacement for Joe Greene who retired after 1981. The thought Gabe Rivera would be that guy. He was beginning to play well. No one expected him to have a car wreck that would leave him paralyzed. In hindsight, yes it is easy to say that they should have taken Marino but at the time they really needed a replacement for Greene.

    • 2012orioles

      Thank you. People will realize how special Ben is when he’s gone. I’d rather draft a player that can help in the current window and have no qb for an extra 2 years when Ben retires

  2. Ak185

    This article is a bit premature. Big Ben won them their pivotal game this last Sunday with a huge performance. If course he, like any older player, has declined. But he is not so decrepit as to be useless. More importantly, the Steelers have shown that he is still irreplaceable right now for them.

    The team has no run game. At all. Their offensive line, elite as shortly as last year, is suddenly incapable of run blocking or pass blocking for anything more than 2.5 seconds. More importantly than that, Claypool is the only receiver who can consistently get open. And most important of all is this: the entire offense is reliant completely on Big Ben. As the Steelers lost different phases of their offensive toolkit-the run, extended pass blocking, receivers beating press-they’ve compensated by just having Ben read the defense more and throw quicker timing or spot routes. When you watch them, he is literally carrying the team. It’s just ludicrous is expect that for a full season for any team, let alone one starting an older quarterback coming off major surgery.

    The Steelers need to rejuvenate their offensive line, which is starting to finally show age. They need to fix their running game, with better blocking and a more elusive back-one that can catch and run routes if Ben is going to keep throwing. Lastly, they desperately need another receiver who won’t drop contested catches. These are all things that they need more than a new quarterback right now, and they should get them soon before Ben’s inevitable retirement or actual major decline occurs.

    • Kirk Nieuwenhuis For MVP

      They don’t seem willing to even try and establish the run beyond sending Snell out to get stuffed on every 3rd and short. And not that Samuels is great by any means, but it baffles me that they’re making no effort to try and work him into the passing game.

    • Yeah, I don’t understand why everyone talks about how much he’s declined. He’s dealing with injuries but still has put up amazing stats and is throwing the ball 40 times a game with 33 TDs, nearly 4,000 yards, 65% completion. He might not be able to sling it downfield as much, but he’s been better than 75% of the QBs in the league.

      His passer rating and QBR sit right at his career averages. The only real knock is his yards/attempt and yards/completion are down. Whether that’s a result of the play calling or the play calling is a result of his perceived inability to throw downfield is a chicken and the egg situation.

      • crb15

        Just think what those stats would be if Diontae and Claypool didn’t have like 20 drops combined. They then wouldn’t be 2nd overall in 3 & outs. They would have more sustained drives. AND the defense would be even BETTER, because they’d be getting a bit more rest also.

    • Oooof

      Big Ben deserves a little blame for the run game problems. Hard to have an effective run game in 2020 with a QB who hates play action.

      • Ak185

        Watching the games, I go in thinking that I could see where a back missed a hole or failed to lower his pads or something along those lines, but I actually see those mistakes often with Pittsburgh. Not that it doesn’t happen because the backs are good, but because they often are hit in the backfield before even getting a chance to reach the LoS. I can’t blame that on Ben or even the backs, whom I don’t think are otherworldly themselves anyway. That’s just purely on the line. Besides, I think you have it backwards-can’t really run play-action without the run game.

        The line is veteran enough to not have to depend on a coach to keep them ready, but is there some effect to Munchak’s departure? I hesitate to say that, because the linemen are veteran led, but they’ve really fallen off at this point in the year. Injuries have taken a toll, but they just don’t look the same.

        • Oooof

          Yeah, I imagine the combination of Munchak leaving and a couple of those guys getting older can’t help. But studies have shown that who the running back is doesn’t actually affect the effectiveness of play action. The problem with no play action is that it makes the offense too easy to read.

          But also, this might be a case of a thousand paper cuts. Ben’s a little worse, the line’s a little worse, the running back situation is a little worse, and the receivers dropping a few passes is making it all worse.

          • Ak185

            I do agree with you there, I do not put it on the backs. I don’t think Conner, the best of the bunch, is either terribly good or bad, but he and Snell are almost always hit in the backfield every running play. I would put a lot of on the offensive line right now, as they seem to allow too many untouched or poorly contested rushers into the backfield.

  3. dgk71

    I’m a Browns fan and I can assure you with or without Big Ben the Steelers will be just fine. They are not a top organization for nothing. They will be just fine.

    • madmanTX

      I saw every game between Bradshaw’s last and Ben’s first as a starter and there were a lot of mediocre years with just that one Super Bowl in 1996 that showed that Neal O’Donnell wasn’t a franchise QB.

  4. madmanTX

    I think Rooney needs to grow a pair and start the organization fresh with a new head coach, a new GM and new coaching staff. They need to bring in somebody who has more than a two page playbook and will instill discipline, instead of letting Ben and the receivers run the team. Tomlin just shows up to cash his checks.

    • Oooof

      This is a bonkers comment. The time for a torch passing at QB is soon, but calling Tomlin a problematic do-nothing coach who can’t instill discipline is asinine. But hey, as a fan of a team that needs a coach, I’d love for them to listen to you.

  5. mattmooney33

    The sad part is Ben can be hurt and still play better than any of the other QB’s currently on the Steelers roster. I wasn’t really too concerned about Ben coming back after being out most of last season. I believed he would do fine. One of the things I was most concerned about was the running game. The Steelers did nothing in the off season to address this issue. I know there’s a lot factors that go into that like the salary cap but still. Conner is ok, but is injury prone and misses like half the season, Snell, McFarland, and Samuels aren’t any better and haven’t done much. That’s something they definitely need to address next season.

  6. bradthebluefish

    Steelers, please give Jameis Winston a chance. Imagine how explosive you could be. Especially with a revitalized run game.

    • Can Winston see downfield yet? Or is he going to set a new record of a 50 TD/50 Interception season to beat his current 30/30 record?

      • Ak185

        That’s fair, but Pittsburgh is actually used to dealing with interceptions on the whole. Clearly I think highly of Ben, but he has thrown a few picks to go along with his touchdowns. Winston obviously is more turnover prone, for sure, but it’s interesting to note. I don’t consider him a fit for the Steelers, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else starting for the Steelers after Ben.

  7. forwhomjoshbelltolled

    The Steelers will be fine…as long as Colbert is there. All bets are off if and when he leaves.

    Ben is near the end of the cliff, but anyone who can’t see he’s playing with an injured knee should stop punditing.

  8. crosseyedlemon

    “Houston is sticking to their plan of hiring a GM before a coach”.

    This is the sensible approach. Just because coaches on other staffs are available a few weeks earlier with the new rule doesn’t make those coaches better.

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