BALTIMORE — For most of the 2020 season, Ben Roethlisberger has lead the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, but it’s been a collective effort that hasn’t seen the team lean on its star quarterback as it has in the past.
A running game boosted by some of new assistant Matt Canada’s pre-snap wrinkles and a healthy James Conner has take some of the load off, and perhaps the deepest group of receivers he’s ever had, from Conner and Jaylen Samuels out of the backfield to tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald and a five-deep receiver corps, it’s been more about the offense’s collective success than any one player’s contributions.
Sunday, in the second half against the Baltimore Ravens, all of that changed. The Steelers had gone four consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown and trailed the Ravens by two scores.
That’s when some of the old Ben came out.
Roethlisberger ran the offense in the second-half, with the Steelers going to a no-huddle scheme and utilizing some different personnel packages to try to get a favorable matchup in the Baltimore secondary. When they did, Roethlisberger took advantage, frequently calling plays — or outright inventing them — at the line of scrimmage.
“I know my whole career, people say that I always had the playground, backyard football,” Roethlisberger said. “This was it in its truest form. That’s why I tip my cap to all the skill guys and the line. I tell them here’s the protection and then everybody else, there were plays where, ‘JuJu you run this, Ray-Ray you run this, Ebron …’
James Conner rushed for 47 yards in the game, with 42 of them coming in the first half. As the Steelers drove to score three second-half touchdowns in what became a 28-24 comeback win, it was almost all Roethlisberger directing the offense.
“I give a lot of credit, especially in the second half, to the receivers, tight ends. We literally were just I was telling the line the protection and moving guys around and playing backyard football,” Roethlisberger said. “They didn’t blink an eye. To me, that is just so awesome that guys are able. … They didn’t have to be robots. They were able to do things on the fly and I think that’s what makes me most proud today.”
The Steelers experimented heavily with empty sets in the second half, first using Jaylen Samuels as an H-back, and then utilizing Ray-Ray McCloud in the slot some to create a different look. When they got one that created a predictable response from the Baltimore defense, they took advantage.
“We were able to get into a personnel that we hadn’t shown them much before,” Roethlisberger said. “I think it kind of made them not be able to do as much. They still tried to throw a couple of blitzes here and there, but we were able to dictate more what we wanted doing that in the second half.”
With the weapons and the offense Roethlisberger has around him — not to mention the Steelers defense — they have not needed much in the way of late-game heroics. But if necessary, the backyard gunslinger showed he’s still got it.
Alex Highsmith Needs MRI after Ankle Injury Suffered vs. Browns
PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith suffered an ankle injury that will require an MRI in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Highsmith left the game in the first half and was seen limping on the Pittsburgh sideline. He made an attempt to return to the game, but was unable to continue playing and did not see the field at all in the second half.
In-game, the Steelers announced that Highsmith was doubtful to return with an ankle injury. After the fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said that Highsmith suffered a high ankle sprain. Highsmith’s father posted on Twitter early on Monday morning that Highsmith will require an MRI on his injured ankle.
Not the way we wanted the season to end but I am thankful to have been a part of this amazing ride! The Highsmith Family is proud to wear the Black & Gold and we look forward to more success in the future! Please pray for Alex as he gets an MRI tomorrow on his ankle! #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/JJA4PpZpvx
— Sam Highsmith (@SHighsmithClan) January 11, 2021
Given that Highsmith was able to walk and even run in short bursts after the injury, it does not seem likely that it will impact his offseason training plans.
The team’s third-round draft pick out of Charlotte, Highsmith was thrust into a starting role after starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree suffered an ACL injury that required surgery.
On the season, Highsmith played in 16 regular season game and made five starts. He finished with 48 tackles, five for a loss, six quarterback hits, one interception and one pass defended.
With Dupree set to become an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, Highsmith should be expected to retain his starting role in 2021.
Mike Tomlin Doesn’t Regret Punt, Will Talk to Ben Roethlisberger About Future
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin answers questions from the media following his team’s shocking defeat at the hands of the Browns in the playoffs. Tomlin explained why he decided to punt on a 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter while trailing by multiple scores. He also touched on the timeline for when he will talk to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about his future with the team.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Says He Doesn’t Regret ‘Browns Is the Browns’ Comment
PITTSBURGH — It was repeated so often in the five days between when JuJu Smith-Schuster said the phrase on Wednesday to Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field, that it nearly became the No. 1 talking point coming into the game.
“The Browns is the Browns.” Before the game, after the game and probably during the game, many of the Browns made it clear that they had taken exception to Smith-Schuster’s characterization of the team.
The Browns IS THE BROWNS!! 🌚
— Jedrick Wills Jr.®️++💕 (@JWills73) January 11, 2021
Smith-Schuster said after the game that he had no regrets about what he said.
“You know, I don’t regret what I said,” Smith-Schuster said. “I said, ‘The Browns is the Browns.’ They came out and they played a hell of a game. You know, there’s been games where we feel we lose them and today wasn’t our night and hopefully the same Browns will show up next week against the same opponent and go out and do the same thing they did tonight and have a hell of a game.”