Pittsburgh is back on the road this week, playing at Baltimore after opening the season with a 21-18 win at Cleveland and then last week losing at Chicago 23-17 in overtime to extend one of the more confounding runs for a quarterback in the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger over the past two-plus seasons at home has a passer rating of 108.95 and everywhere else it’s 82.65. He has more touchdown passes at home, 38 to 17. He has thrown fewer interceptions at home, 13 to 17. He has taken fewer sacks at home, 15 to 26.
It’s ear-piercingly loud on the road, and you have to be on it from a pre-snap read look. Your quarterback has to have a ton of freedom at the line of scrimmage and has to have sound line of scrimmage mechanics to be able to navigate that environment.
You have to have a silent count for when you’re under center, you have to have a silent count for when you’re in the shotgun. You have to be able to get your team not only in the right play, in the right run or the right pass, but also have the freedom to do so.
If you’re trying to sit back there and throw the ball around 60 times a game on the road and be cute you’re not going to win many games.
What I haven’t seen from Ben, and what I have seen from every other quarterback that you would put in that category from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers to whoever, is full control of the line of scrimmage and a mastering of his offensive scheme.
I think what happens in Pittsburgh is they do a lot of pre-snap shifts, motions. They move Antonio Brown everywhere. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is great at that.
They win a lot of games that way.
But when you try to take that on the road, it doesn’t travel well.
If you’re trying to sit back there and throw the ball around 60 times a game on the road and be cute, you’re not going to win many games. You’re going to turn the ball over. There is going to be miscommunications on routes, on hand signals to your receivers.
Ben has always played quarterback as what I call a snap, throw it-type quarterback. He doesn’t care what the pre-snap read is. He’s not going to make a lot of adjustments. They don’t ask him to make a lot of adjustments.
Ben has always played quarterback as what I call a snap, throw it-type quarterback. He doesn’t care what the pre-snap read is. He’s not going to make a lot of adjustments. They don’t ask him to make a lot of adjustments. Todd Haley is going to do some alignment stuff. He’s going to put Antonio Brown where he wants him. They’re going to snap the ball and they’re going to find the open receiver. They don’t even really care what the defense is playing and that’s a hard way to play football on the road.
It’s hard for any quarterback to go out there and play and win on the road unless you have a dominant running game.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and even Dom Capers when I was in Houston had a solid philosophy that you have to run the ball and you have to play solid, lockdown defense.
Pittsburgh in the past couple of years hasn’t really had a great defense. They’ve given up a lot of points.
If I were them, I’d look at really leaning on Le’Veon Bell and really get that guy going, because they have a good offensive line.
The Cowboys on Monday night got Ezekiel Elliott a ton of touches early and eventually, he’s going to break one and that will open the play-action game. The Steelers aren’t there right now. Ben is not completing a lot of downfield throws. He’s forcing it a little bit to Martavis Bryant. I think a lot of it is they’re just trying to drop-back pass on first and second down. They’re not even worried about running play action. They’re just saying, “Our guys are better than you, we should be able to beat you.”
But it just doesn’t work that way on the road, and you can tell.
Question of the week
From Don Van Ness: Hi David. I’m one of your former coaches. We were both part of the League Champion 1990 Kastner Junior High Team.
I recall everyone would be heading home after practice, except you. You and your dad would be playing catch long after we all quit for the day. That brings me to my question:
When you think about drive, the desire and commitment behind hard work, do some teammates come to mind that may not have been the prototypical athlete for their position, but their desire to excel just took them to another level?
Coach Van Ness, great to hear from you. I can still remember you and Coach Babcock playing catch before every practice. I was maybe 5 feet tall and might have weighed 100 pounds and I would be out there thinking, “Man, I can’t wait to grow up so I can spin it like Coach Van Ness.”
A guy that stands out for me is Amani Toomer. He probably doesn’t break five seconds in the 40-yard dash and toward the end of his career he definitely didn’t. He would come run with us, the quarterbacks, and I could beat him in a gasser across the field and back every time. Easy. But I don’t know that I ever left a Giants practice and he wasn’t still on the field catching footballs.
Before practice, we would do a drill called “pat and go” where the quarterback stands in the middle of the field, pats the football, the receivers are just getting their legs warm and they’re out by the numbers running an easy little fade. Some guys go through the motions – they’d catch the ball with one hand, they’d let the ball drop down and catch it at their waist. Amani would never catch a ball casually. He would always on this drill make sure to catch it over his outside shoulder as far from his body as he possibly could. There’s no defender out there. He’s just running straight. But no matter where you threw the ball he would position his body as if there was a defender on him and he would wall that defender to the inside, to the middle of the field, and he would let the ball fall over his outside shoulder toward the sideline.
That was how important the game was to him and that’s how important his craft was to him.
David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.
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