Is a healthy Landry Jones better than a banged-up Ben?
If this premise sounds familiar, it is: I wrote about this same topic back in January, following the Steelers ugly playoff win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In that game, Ben Roethlisberger was injured, replaced by Landry Jones (who then threw a pick) and was replaced again by Big Ben (who then won the game).
The argument going into the following week, was whether or not Ben would be healthy enough to play against the Denver Broncos.
The argument going into this week, following a bye week and a procedure on Roethlisberger’s knee, is if Ben will be healthy enough to play against the Baltimore Ravens.
Let me once again preface this article by saying Landry Jones is not Ben Roethlisberger.
Nor will he ever be.
That said, will Mike Tomlin and his staff decide to sit Ben additional games, so Roethlisberger is 100%?
Or will coach decide to toss a 60% ready quarterback into the fray, putting both his franchise QB, and the team, at risk?
Really, that’s the question as to whether to play Landry Jones or not; good or bad, that’s not an indictment on Landry’s play, more so, if an injured Ben hinders the Steelers ability to win upcoming games.
When the subject was broached earlier this year on Ben’s weekly radio show, Roethlisberger commented on the decision to keep Landry Jones in the game and not go with Ben, until the final drive:
The intent was not to come back in the game at that moment, because… We felt, one, that Landry at 100% was better than me at 50, or whatever percentage I was… We had the lead, we just had to hold onto it…
I told Coach Tomlin… I was honest… I don’t want to just say, I don’t want to come out “coach put me in.” Because I never want to hurt the team. You don’t go in the game to just try and be a tough guy, if you’re gonna hurt you’re team, if you’re not healthy enough to help the team, you don’t go out there and make it worse, hurt the team worse.
Those words are from the source: Ben feels that a hurt Ben doesn’t help the Steelers.
The counterpoint is whether an injured Ben can play better than Landry Jones.
In relief of Roethlisberger last Sunday, Jones went 29-of-47 for 281 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Jones may have had more touchdown passes, but threw a pick in the first quarter when targeting Antonio Brown in the endzone, and had another dump-off pass that Darrius Heyward-Bey ran across the goal line, called back due to a holding call.
The indictment there is that Jones showed maturity against one of the league’s consistently best teams: Pittsburgh’s next two opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Dallas Cowboys, have been anything but consistent.
Many folks will remember the bad preseason game that Jones had against the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing 4 interceptions, but disregard the following week’s sharp performance against the New Orleans Saints. By comparison, Big Ben also had a poor showing in the “real” regular season contest against Philadelphia.
In other words, the Philadelphia defense had Pittsburgh’s number not just once, but twice: and Jones was the punching bag in the exhibition game, as he was playing with many players who are no longer fixtures of the Steelers offense.
Jones’ performances were also mixed last season, throwing picks in his only start (Kansas City) and in relief appearances against Seattle and Cincy; the latter two, Jones was pulled cold from the bench to try and rescue the team in the fourth quarter, something he was able to do against the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals in 2015.
Conversely, Roethlisberger is also an up-and-down QB when returning from injury. In his first game back, last season, Ben threw 3 interceptions against the Bengals, for a 57.8 QB rating.
To end 2015, Roethlisberger threw 6 touchdowns to 7 interceptions in the final 4 games of the regular season.
To start 2016, Ben has 16 touchdown passes versus 6 interceptions, however, on a bum leg against Miami he threw two bad interceptions as well.
There’s no doubt that a future Hall of Fame quarterback who owns every franchise record conceivable is a better choice than a career backup, but one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin has visions of Ben’s performances while playing hurt dancing in his head. He may also opt to allow Ben an additional week of rest, should the staff feel that Ben not only needs it, but that the team can win without him.
Similarly, Tomlin rushed a banged-up Troy Polamalu onto the field once too many times during the end of 43’s career, and it limited the star player’s time on the field do to further injury, and may have hampered the safety’s play-making ability. His recent approach with injuries, such as sitting Marcus Gilbert last week against the Patriots (who said he was fine to play) could be a further indication that Coach Tomlin is preparing for the long-term rather than the short-term.
Another approach could be the same way the Steelers handled a Jones/Ben lineup against the Cleveland Browns last season. Jones would get the start at home against the Browns, before getting injured, and replaced, ironically, by Roethlisberger.
Through the week leading up to that game, Mike Tomlin was against playing Ben, attempting to give him another week of rest.
Ben would enter that game and throw for 379 yards and 3 touchdowns, despite being “injured” and benched in favor of Jones.
It’s plausible the Steelers take a similar “wait and see” move following the bye, if Ben isn’t 100% fully ready (though it may take another injury to Landry for Ben to see the field, depending on the prognosis).
Keeping our eyes on next week’s practice schedule will be the key as to whether or not we see Ben out there. Roethlisberger noted in his weekly radio show that he would like to get a practice in, in order to play in Baltimore next week. If he does, my guess is we see Ben start.
If he doesn’t, Landry Jones might be the default option, and perhaps, not the worst one, given the scenario.