It is pretty obvious: this was not a pretty game for the Steelers, more specifically Ben Roethlisberger. On paper, this might go down as one of the worst performances of Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame career. But was it really as bad as it originally appeared?
Let me be blunt: no. It was not completely as bad as it originally seemed. Was it still bad? Yes. But there is reason to believe that this will be a one time thing and we can expect improvement moving forward. Each of Ben's interceptions was largely a result of multiple things going wrong during the play that were out of his control. In this week's offensive film room, I'll breakdown each of Roethlisberger's 5 interceptions against the Jaguars.
When this play occurred during the game, it appeared that it was a stellar play on the ball by cornerback Jalen Ramsey (which it definitely was). But upon further review, it is quite easy to see that this is a pass that Roethlisberger was forced to make. Pre-snap, linebacker Paul Posluszny did not show his blitz but once the play began, he instantly blew upfield through the B-gap. On this play, James Conner is in for Le'Veon Bell and remains in the backfield for protection. As he is scanning the field for work, looks outside first and by the time he looks inside, his attempt to pick up Posluszny fails. It doesn't fail because he was too slow in getting there, though. He is unable to pick up the blitz because he didn't come square and tight to the line, allowing Posluszny to chip off and force the pressure. This prevents Roethlisberger from really being able to step up and make a good pass, putting it into a position that is much easier for Ramsey to pick it off.
On a side note, you would like to see Vance McDonald do a better job of being aggressive once the ball arrives by either attempting to make the catch or doing a better job of trying to knock the ball out of Ramsey's hands.
The first of two pick-6's on the day. As the play develops, it is clear that the target is Brown on a post route. However, as the ball is being released, defensive tackle Arby Jones jumps in the air and is able to deflect the pass. How was he able to get up like he did? Ramon Foster did not engage on the pass block, which is a vital responsibility for offensive linemen to prevent a defensive lineman from putting his hands up. If you know the pass is coming, you must find a way to keep the defensive lineman's arms down. Foster fails to do this, leading to an easily deflected pass.
As this is going on, it appears that Telvin Smith is in a position in coverage where had the ball not been deflected, he would not have been in a position to cleanly intercept the pass. It's probable that Roethlisberger missed Smith in coverage, which is something that happens to quarterbacks from time to time. The pass might not have been completed to Brown, but it is highly unlikely that it would've ended up as a pick-6. The ball landed square in the chest of Smith.
You have to question Roethlisberger's decision to throw this pass to Brown with three Jaguars defenders in the area. The pass was a bit too high and had it been a little bit lower, Brown wouldn't have had to make nearly as contested of a pass. Regardless of Roethlisberger's decision to throw this one, the pass still was in Brown's hands and as the best receiver in the NFL, you need to find a way to come down with it. Props to Ramsey for getting his hand involved with the breakup to disrupt it and knock it out. Even though Brown wasn't able to come down with it, Barry Church also happened to be in the right place at the right time. Of the five interceptions Roethlisberger threw on the day, this was probably his worst throw based on the fact that he floated it ever so slightly. The fact that it was the 2nd pick-6 of the day just adds insult to injury.
It is easy to see what Roethlisberger saw on this play. On JuJu Smith-Schuster's route, he was in a position where it looks like he had a move to make the defender be out of position. As this happens, Roethlisberger has to make the throw so the ball is on the spot once Smith-Schuster is out of his break. However, as Roethlisberger is throwing the ball, Smith-Schuster loses his footing and falls on the ground. Tashaun Gipson quickly recognizes this, steps up, and intercepts the pass in the area of the field where Smith-Schuster would've been to make the catch. Players lose their footing from time to time, but it can be a grave mistake. You need to stay on your feet to at least give Roethlisberger a shot at completing the pass. Ben saw the play happening and made a good read. There is no guaranteeing that Smith-Schuster would've made the catch, but it would've been a better result than the interception.
Just when we thought that the day couldn't get any worse for Roethlisberger, he throws his 5th interception. This pass was far from perfect, as Ben completely under-threw the pass. But was it simply a bad throw from Big Ben? Not so fast. It is hard to see from this angle, but as Dante Fowler rushes the play, he manages to get a hand on Roethlisberger as the ball is being released. While Fowler didn't directly touch the ball, you can see Roethlisberger feel the pressure and attempt to make a last second adjustment. That adjustment ends up looking even worse because of the contact that Fowler is ultimately able to make as the throw is coming off. This causes the ball to fall a few yards short of Brown and puts Gipson in the position to come underneath and come away with the easy interception.
This game was far from a pretty one, as there is much improvement needed in all fronts within the offense. At first glance, it is easy to pin all of the blame on Roethlisberger, as the stat sheet will obviously show that he had 5 interceptions. While that is indeed true, most of the passes that he attempted made sense when reviewing the play. Does this mean that Ben had a good game? Not necessarily, but squarely putting all of the blame onto him for each of these interceptions isn't the answer either. Until this offense finds a way to be consistent, it is going to be a rough season for the Steelers. Based on the tape, however, I feel that they'll be able to turn it around very quickly.