ben loss2

The easy crutch for Ben Roethlisberger this season will be his offensive line, a unit now missing center Maurkice Pouncey, a crucial anchor. And indeed, that line is weak, and the quarterback was hurried and forced to scramble often last night during a 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

But there’s a simple expectation for a quarterback playing in such a situation, especially one with Roethlisberger’s history: make throws and hit targets when you’re given the opportunity. That’s a concept this particular quarterback is still struggling with.

Oh, there were connections made, the most significant of which being a 43-yard reception by Emmanuel Sanders (the throw actually traveled about 11 yards in the air because Todd Haley, but hey, it counts). That was one of three +30 yard catches that kept the game close, but a completion percentage of just 54.1 is downright startling, especially for a quarterback who connected at a rate above 70 percent in five games last year, and he’s in an offense that maximizes high-percentage throws.

In fairness to the biggest Ben, throwing windows close tighter when the defense doesn’t believe there’s any semblance of a running game on the field. Yes, Isaac Redman was injured on the opening kickoff and missed most of the first half. But is there really that much of a talent chasm between Redman and, well, anyone else? No, no there isn’t, and the 3.0 yards per carry averaged by the Steelers running backs (Redman, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer) shows the deep fracture left by a far more important absence. Miss you, Le’Veon Bell.

Until Bell returns and some normalcy resumes in Pittsburgh with the ground pounded sufficiently, it’s difficult to foresee much sustained offensive success after what we saw last night. For fantasy footballing, the ceilings for Antonio Brown (who’s only averaging 11.6 yards per catch) and Sanders will continue to be limited.

Speaking of which, on the other side of the ball it was easy to convince yourself that Giovanni Bernard busted through his own ceiling that’s been limited due to the presence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The highlight of Bernard’s night was a 27-yard catch and run for a touchdown, which followed several long runs after bursting through a hole (he also had 38 yards on eight carries with a touchdown, good for 17 fantasy points in total).

But alas, Green-Ellis isn’t going quietly into the night, as he’s maintaining a specific and important role. Late in the game on the Bengals’ final drive when it was clock grindin’ time (and therefore also fantasy rushing yards compiling time), Green-Ellis was given eight of his 22 carries.

Eventually, Bernard’s open-field cutting and versatility — he already has 35 receiving yards, while Green-Ellis finished with 104 such yards throughout all of last season at a pace of 4.7 per game — will prevail. But it’ll still take time, and for much of the season the larger plodder will continue to suck back a chuck of the touches that the slightly smaller and more agile speedy guy deserves.

The NFL has never been fair, and it’s not about to start now.

More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness

Maybe there’s another way to show your team pride…

Perhaps you have a foam finger lying around? Maybe a team lunchbox? No? OK then.

chris henry shirt

Brandon Weeden’s special kind of pain

Every year repeatedly throughout August I write that it’s always wise to douse what we see during the preseason with many grains of salt. It’s a time when the talent pool is diluted, making results skewed and often not accurate. That doesn’t mean what we’re watching in the preseason is entirely meaningless, it’s just that with with both inexperienced players on the field and schemes not yet installed, we’re often not seeing reality.

I know this and you know this, and yet every year there’s still at least one player that I become irrationally excited about while ignoring my own common sense thinking. This year, that player was Brandon Weeden, who finished the August nothingness with a passer rating of 99.9, a completion percentage of 60.0, and no interceptions on 50 attempts. Those are decent and sort of good numbers, which was an improvement.

Now? Yeah, maybe that third preseason game when Weeden completed only 48 percent of his passes is the one that actually meant something.

Let’s not mash the panic button on Weeden’s second-year boom quite yet. He plays a role in that painful sack number which is thus far just dumb through only two games, but the large men in front of him bear even more responsibility. That blocking has to improve and ascend back to something at least below average, but it’s impossible to stay this awful. Right?

He isn’t getting the time to look deep, and the fact that there’s been no deep threat for defenses to be concerned with isn’t helping matters either. That changes this week with the return of Josh Gordon.

Or maybe the Browns should just sign a bunch of clay pigeons.

So, this happened

In a democratic society we are free to gather in public to support any cause our most passionate beliefs and deep inner desires take us towards (with a few truly insane exceptions, of course…use your imagination). There’s a commonly quoted axiom that’s now grown to cliché status, and it goes something like this: I may not agree with your beliefs, but I will defend to the death your right to express them.

This is the strongest test of our firmly held democratic ideals…

The dozen or so people left in this world who believe in Tim Tebow have so much dedication to the cause that they’re going beyond punch and pie for a weekly meeting, and they’ll grill hamburgers and hot dogs every Monday. Finding employment is probably a better use of time.

Hard decisions are hard

Over the first two weeks of the season we’ve watched a record number of games decided by a touchdown or less (22 of them, with last night’s game nearly adding to that total). So it makes sense that we’d also have a number of questionable coaching decisions to ponder, calls which influenced the outcome of those games in the final minutes. It also makes sense that one of the most prominent bumbled calls comes from Greg Schiano this past weekend, he of the Buccaneers and their perpetual crap storm.

The situation: the Bucs were up by one (14-13) and had the ball on the Saints’ 29-yard line on fourth down needing three yards, and with 1:10 left. Schiano’s options? Go for it, punt to pin a dangerous but also timeout-less Drew Brees deep, or attempt a 46-yard field goal. He went with door No. 3, Rian Lindell missed, and Brees promptly marched his offense down the field for a chip shot game winner.

Of course, hindsight cursing is as fun as it is easy. But even without a geek squad, the layman can note that the success rate of both the first and second options (going for it and trusting your offense to get three damn yards, or punting and giving Brees a longer field with no timeouts) are much better than attempting a long field goal in a slopfest of a game. And oh look, the mathematics of this conundrum show that assumption is quite correct.

From NumberFire:

Schiano elected to attempt the 46-yard field goal – about a 64% proposition. If the Bucs hit the field goal, they go up four points, increasing their win probability to 86%. With a miss, the win probability drops to 74% and Drew Brees gets the ball on the 36, needing only a field goal to win.

The win probabilities for a punt or going for it? 89 percent and 88 percent.

In other now more pressing Bucs matters, his players likely think he’s a complete dick, and he has to publicly defend his quarterback weekly. Fun!