The glimmer of hope disappeared shortly after it arrived. Ben Roethlisberger will not play in the much-anticipated showdown with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made the official call to reporters at his Tuesday press conference. Roethlisberger will miss Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh after surgery Monday on the left meniscus he injured in the 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
That means Landry Jones will officially be the starter for the Steelers, which presents dark odds in terms of knocking off their top challenger in the AFC. In Jones’ only start of his career last season against the Kansas City Chiefs, the former fourth-round pick engineered just 13 points in a loss.
In Brady’s return game against the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago, the Patriots knocked third-string quarterback Cody Kessler out of a one-score game in the first half and proceeded to feast on backup Charlie Whitehurst and emergency quarterback Terrelle Pryor in a 33-13 victory.
Jones certainly has far better talent around him than what was in Cleveland, and he has the advantage of a full week of preparation with the first team. Still, a mere game-manager role is a challenging approach if Pittsburgh isn’t dramatically improved from the defensive showing it put forth in Miami, when it allowed a 200-yard rusher, nearly 500 yards of total offense and 30 points to a far less talented Dolphins unit than what it will see from Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Co.
Jones’ surrounding talent is strong, but it isn’t bullet-proof. As Martavis Bryant continues to serve a year-long suspension for substance abuse, the Steelers are suffering through injuries to wide receiver Markus Wheaton (shoulder) and tight end Ladarius Green (ankle). Wideout Sammie Coates has also struggled to catch with stitches in his hand.
It’s presumable, then, that the Steelers will look to ride Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and the running game. But that also plays into the Patriots’ strength. In terms of defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), New England ranks 27th against the pass and 8th against the run.
The good news for Tomlin is he has some time to figure it all out. The bad news is Bill Belichick does, too.