By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Steelers lost to the Jaguars on Sunday, and while the reasons for that loss are plentiful, two big fourth-down stops by the Jacksonville defense rank high on that list.
Most fans watching the game wondered why quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t call his own number on a quarterback sneak on a pair of failed fourth-and-1 plays for Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, the future Hall of Famer revealed that he doesn’t have the authority to make such a call.
And according to Roethlisberger, if he asks to run the ball himself, head coach Mike Tomlin laughs at him.
Roethlisberger reiterated that the lack of a QB sneak in the playbook is not his call.
The first failed fourth-down attempt came on a fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 21-yard line late in the first quarter. Instead of kicking a field goal to cut Jacksonville’s lead to 14-3, Tomlin opted to go for it. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley called a run play — a pitch to Le’Veon Bell — and the Jaguars swarmed the running back for a four-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
The second failed fourth down came on another fourth-and-1, this time at the Jacksonville 39-yard line early in the fourth quarter, with the Jaguars leading by just a touchdown. Roethlisberger this time faked an inside handoff to Bell, looked up the field, and fired a pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was covered tightly by A.J. Bouye. The pass fell incomplete; the Jaguars then drove 61 yards for a touchdown to double their lead.
The plays were, of course, huge, and Roethlisberger’s lack of freedom to simply take a snap and fall forward with his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame is indicative of a problem with Roethlisberger, Tomlin and Haley. Certainly, the miscommunication among those three led to a dreadful last-minute interception in the end zone by Roethlisberger to lose a game (and home-field advantage) to the Patriots in Week 15, and the inability to gain a few feet in such a critical moment certainly doesn’t reflect well on anybody.
(Of note: Haley’s contract only ran through this season, so the Steelers could move on from him.)
Given Roethlisberger’s propensity to sustain injuries at a high rate, limiting the number of hits he takes is a sound strategy for Pittsburgh — in the regular season. In the playoffs, when every possession matters, all hands need to be on deck. It’s clear that in Sunday’s loss at home, the Steelers didn’t equip themselves to win.