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NFL insider notes: Steelers must consider benching Big Ben, Mac Jones hype train hits wall, more from Week 3

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If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to establish a modicum of an identity on offense, and some balance and consistency either running or throwing the ball, it may require a quarterback change to do so. The scope of this offense with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm has been suffocated since last November, and there is no reason to anticipate that changing at all in his age 39 season.

The Steelers need to think about sitting Big Ben, sooner rather than later. It may be the only way to salvage something on that side of the ball, as so many position groups continue to languish and struggle. Having a QB at the end get hit this much and being this constricted in your attack – they have amassed four touchdowns on offense all season; they averaged 4.4 yards per pass attempt until garbage time of Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Bengals – behind a line that is suffering, makes no sense.

It may sound crazy to some, and I’m not saying that Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins is the answer at QB, but they need to start exploring whatever else they can get out of the quarterback position before it’s too late. They need someone with more agility and mobility who might be able to extend a play or buy time for the offense or at least provide a semblance of a threat running read-option concepts that might help first-round pick Najee Harris finally see some space to run (the Steelers had a pathetic three yards per carry Sunday).

Because this offense has been horribly broken since the middle of last season, and it’s only getting worse. Big Ben somehow attempted 21 passes for 92 yards in the first half. A lot of teams average more per carry than they averaged per pass. It’s not even that shocking for this group anymore, especially as its reconfigured offensive line is imperiled and the running game clearly needs a boost of some sort. At this point in time, that could really only come from a schematic change to their approach, and perhaps from a quarterback who could take off and run with it, even if not super effectively.  

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Roethlisberger is getting tossed around week after week, and turning the ball over a ton. His interception while trying to navigate the pocket, throwing it right to linebacker Logan Wilson while down 10 in the third quarter, basically ended any chance of making this a ball game. It was his second pick of the game on an afternoon in which balls often sailed high and in which drops were also a problem.

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Bottom line, the Steelers have played eight games since their unbeaten streak was snapped last December; they are 2-6 in those games and have the NFL‘s worst rushing attack. Roethlisberger is 238-for-375 in that span (63%) for 2,305 yards (just 6.15 yards per attempt), with 15 touchdown passes, a staggering 11 interceptions and a lowly QB rating of 81.69.

The more beat up he gets, the worse this will get. Something needs to change. We said in this space last December the Steelers needed a new starting quarterback, and them punting on pursuing a true upgrade is already problematic. The reality is, though, that at this point even going to either backup could be a step up.

The Mac Jones hype train has slowed to a halt, I presume? What ugly football the Patriots continue to play as this rookie QB takes his lumps.

I was way off on this team. They are not special in any regard, the post-Tom Brady era is not going well for Bill Belichick and I remain unimpressed with this group overall. The defense is not fearsome in any regard and they are incredibly limited on offense. So much for Foxboro being some sort of fortress; the Pats got punked by the Dolphins and Saints already at home and struggled to truly put the lowly Jets away despite Zach Wilson handing them the ball four times.

For all the talk about Jones being superior to other kid QBs in his decision making, he sure threw up some jump balls Sunday and looked really jittery against the Saints pressure. They had 68 net yards at the two-minute warning of the first half, trailing by multiple scores and effectively out of hope in a game in which the rookie QB was picked off three times. The offensive line has not been good, they do not run the ball with the power and effectiveness of a year ago (when they were by no means world-beaters but had Cam to open things up) and Jones led them with 28 ground yards on six carries against the Saints. Woof.

Long-term, he’ll probably be fine, I guess. But, continuing a trend here, you gonna tell me this offense would be worse with an athlete like Cam Newton at the helm? What happened to this revved up passing game, with them spending all that money on receivers and tight ends? The trio of Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor have combined for a grand total of 45 catches for 290 yards (6.44 yards per catch!) and one touchdown reception through three football games. That is three free agents through nine combined man games. That is awful. The trio amassed eight catches for 57 yards TOTAL on Sunday.

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The Pats couldn’t crack 50 yards rushing as a team. Good luck with that. I thought this was a wild-card team. I was probably way off on that.

Brown’s drops undermine Jackson’s superior play

Hollywood Brown’s breakout season was derailed Sunday by a flurry of drops in which he repeatedly took his eyes off the ball. He dropped two balls for huge gains on the same drive, dropped a sure TD in the back of the end zone and seemed lost. His mistakes kept the Lions in the game and undermined the superior play of his best buddy, quarterback Lamar Jackson, who continued to shine within the pocket, often under duress.

Brown had been used differently this season, doing much of his damage in RPOs and quick hitters, getting YAC. The zone read stuff wasn’t there at Detroit and Brown’s tendency to drop deep balls or handle the ball awkwardly crept back up as the Lions stuck around this game. He needs a bounce-back game at Denver.

The Ravens stole a victory when officials blew a delay of game call, allowing Justin Tucker to make history with a 66-yard field goal as time expired. But there are major questions to be asked. Alejandro Villanueva looks like the latest big acquisition by GM Eric DeCosta to have major bust potential, as he seems lost at times in this scheme, having to block for an adroit QB who extends plays. The team lacks any pass rush, again, unless defensive coordinator Wink Martindale brings a heavy blitz, and the injuries to their running backs and offensive line issues have led to a far more disjointed rushing game than we have seen in years.

The option stuff has only really been there in the win against the Chiefs, but Sunday at Detroit they never got anything going; figuring out a running back rotation and division of labor is a must.

Chargers first-year coach proving himself

Hats off to rookie coach Brandon Staley, who shook off a blown fourth-and-4 that could have helped the Chargers put the game away late in the first half (or at least go up by 21) to stick with his approach. Staley had a great plan for Patrick Mahomes, who got knocked around and frustrated some. And despite a procedural infraction negating a 30 yard gain on that fourth-and-4, he sent Justin Herbert in to keep converting critical fourth downs, including a fourth-and-9 that did cement the game. 

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Herbert is generational, already, and the Chargers should be 3-0, frankly. While I am stupefied why Staley did not bleed the clock and kick a last second chip shot, rather than score and give Mahomes at least a shot at a Hail Mary, he is already proving to be far advanced from much of this rookie coaching class.

More Week 3 insider notes

  • Daniel Jones is better than I thought, but the Giants are cooked and this coaching staff continues to make cringe-worthy decisions. This kid just ran all over the WFT defense 10 days ago, but on long rest on a day when you have zero offense going you don’t call more QB option stuff for him to complicate life for Atlanta’s struggling defense? What am I missing here? They’re already clashing with their first-round pick and their big free agent receiving signing. They have been a mess for quite some time and show no signs of cleaning it up no matter what Joe Judge mutters …
  • The Bengals defense is as improved as any unit in the NFL. I am buying them as being, at the very least, solid. Zac Taylor continues to stick with a balanced attack and they gouged the Steelers on the ground. I don’t like the offensive line in pass protection much, but they can road grade some. They are on the way back to respectability if they can keep Joe Burrow healthy … 
  • The Bears offense is laughable at this point. Poor Justin Fields … 
  • The Jags have been outscored 91-53 in Urban Meyer’s first three games. Hmm … 
  • Like how the Browns folded OBJ back into their offense after returning from ACL surgery. Routes looked crisp as he works back into the fold … 
  • Taysom Hill was very effective back in that Wildcat-type look. Helped key the Saints’ run game and move the ball in the red zone. Had a feeling the Saints would bounce back at New England. After all they have been though, and for how long they have been away from New Orleans, have to applaud the work of the players and the coaches there.


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