Since success in the NFL hinges greatly on dependability at the quarterback position, the Pittsburgh Steelers' playoff aspirations went from foggy to gloomy after Sunday night's 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Although obviously staggered by the loss of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered injuries to his first rib and his throwing shoulder in a Week 10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers' situation worsened significantly when backup Byron Leftwich sustained a rib injury against the Ravens that will sideline him for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
The absence of Leftwich leaves the Steelers little choice but to turn over the reins to soon-to-be 38-year-old Charlie Batch, a 15-year veteran who has gone 5-2 while subbing for Roethlisberger since 2005.
The Steelers also plucked an insurance policy in the wake of Leftwich's injury by signing free-agent signal caller Brian Hoyer. The 27-year-old Hoyer completed 27-of-43 passes in three seasons with the New England Patriots before being released on Aug. 31 during the team's final cuts.
He may have the odds stacked against him over the long haul without Roethlisberger, but Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expressed confidence in Batch and Hoyer at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
"More than anything with the two quarterbacks, we're looking at guys who have earned their livings as backups, and that's specific because they're capable of being able to put together an above-the-line type of performance on a limited number of snaps," Tomlin said in response to Stan Savran’s question regarding whether or not free-agent quarterback Mike Kafka would be a better fit for Todd Haley’s offense than Batch or Hoyer. "Obviously Charlie Batch is going to get the bulk of the snaps this week, and rightfully so. Those guys have earned their living in this league as backups, being ready to participate on a limited number of snaps, and that was part of the decision that came to bringing those two men to the forefront today. Not only that, but they have reputations as football smart and intelligent people."
Self-assurance aside, Tomlin can’t deny that Roethlisberger’s injury couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.
Not only did the Steelers have to deal with the loss of Big Ben just in time for the AFC North Division’s marquee matchup of the year last Sunday against the Ravens, they’ll most likely have to do without Roethlisberger and Leftwich for pivotal divisional clashes with the Browns and the Ravens in Weeks 12 and 13.
Nearly impossible to rattle, Tomlin downplayed the dire nature of the Steelers’ quarterback dilemma at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
“We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Charlie,” Tomlin said. “One thing that I can say about this quarterback situation, as uncomfortable as it may be or it may appear to be, it’s not something that we’re foreign to, unfortunately. We’ve been as far as three and four deep, in terms of playing quarterback in recent years. Definitely in ’09 and in (2010). Those guys do an awesome job of rallying and answering the bell—we expect them to. So we’re excited about him preparing and leading us this week.”
The Steelers have gone 9-5 in games without Roethlisberger since 2004, the year they drafted the Miami University (Ohio) product in the first round.
Batch signed with the Steelers in 2003 but didn’t make a start with the club until 2005. In seven games since then, Batch has completed 92 of 151 passes for 1,177 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
In his last start in Week 16 of last season, Batch completed 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards and an interception and guided the Steelers to a 27-0 shellacking of the St. Louis Rams.
“I’m always excited,” Batch said in an interview with 9.37 The Fan’s Eric Hagman on Wednesday. “These opportunities don’t come often anymore, and here I am getting up there in years, and when you have this opportunity, you cherish them.”