Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Hold off Ravens to Remain Undefeated

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2020

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) pressures him during the second half of an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens played a game at 3:40 p.m. on a Wednesday with the quality you would expect from a football game played at 3:40 p.m. on a Wednesday.

In the end, all that matters is the Steelers kept their undefeated dream alive.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 266 yards and a touchdown and the Steelers defense locked down against Baltimore's depleted offense on their way to a 19-14 victory.

"To be bluntly honest, I'm really disappointed in our performance tonight. It was junior varsity. In all three phases," coach Mike Tomlin told reporters

The Ravens had 17 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list after a teamwide outbreak caused this game, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night, to be pushed back six days. They were without quarterback Lamar Jackson, running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins and tight end Mark Andrews on offense. Their defense had to make do without Calais Campbell, Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee. 

While Baltimore put up a valiant effort, playing without so many stars on both sides of the ball eventually took its toll. Starting in place of Jackson, Robert Griffin III struggled mightily through the air, while Justice Hill and Gus Edwards failed to provide Ingram-Dobbins production. 

Baltimore accounted for just 219 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice.

Notable Stats

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QB Ben Roethlisberger: 36-51, 266 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 16 carries, 60 yards, 3 receptions, 33 yards
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: 8 receptions, 37 yards, 1 TD
WR Chase Claypool: 6 receptions, 52 yards


QB Robert Griffin III: 7-12, 33 yards, 1 INT, 7 carries, 68 yards
QB Trace McSorley: 2-6, 77 yards, 1 TD, 3 carries, 16 yards
WR Marquise Brown: 4 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD

The Steelers May Have a Ben Roethlisberger Problem

The Steelers are making the playoffs, and they're almost certainly going to be one of the top two seeds in the AFC. Roethlisberger is certainly a good enough quarterback to win in the regular season.

His ability to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback at this juncture of his career is far more questionable.

The 38-year-old has made things work this season largely as a dink-and-dunk game manager. He averaged just 4.7 air yards per completion coming into this week, a number that certainly isn't rising after he threw for 266 yards on 36 completions. His average air yards differential is in line with the Carson Wentzes and Sam Darnolds of the world; he's essentially only completing passes right in front of his face.

Stats like QBR (where Roethlisberger ranked 19th) and DVOA (14th) are a better barometer of where Roethlisberger stands than his 101.1 standard quarterback rating coming into this week. 

The defense has been so sensational all season that the Steelers have rarely (if ever) asked Roethlisberger to win them games. It's unclear if he has the capability to do so; the ugly-duck interception he threw in the end zone Wednesday is indicative of the type of gunslinger plays Roethlisberger used to make but can't anymore. It's far from the only duck Roethlisberger has thrown in those under-pressure situations this season. 

The Steelers have just been strong enough defensively that none of them have come back to bite them. The margin shrinks to nothing in the postseason. Roethlisberger deserves all the credit in the world for coming back and performing at the level he has after an injury-riddled 2019. It's just fair to be skeptical whether he can still perform when it matters most.


Ravens' Playoff Hopes Could Be Helped By Weak Schedule

The Ravens, for more reasons than one, are a team in disarray. They've lost three straight games and won't have much time to lick their wounds before Tuesday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. 

It's unclear how Baltimore will look coming into that game. Some players may come off the COVID list, and more may find their way on. Trace McSorley looks like he earned himself a start over Griffin with his late-game performance if Jackson is unable to return. 

For now, though, the Ravens' playoff hopes are in severe jeopardy. They are now a full game behind the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins on the Nos. 6-7 line and trending downward.

If there's any saving grace, it's Baltimore's weak schedule down the stretch. The Ravens' final five opponents have a combined record of 18-36-1. Eight of those wins are owned by the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys, Jaguars, Bengals and Giants are a combined 10-33-1.

Even a depleted version of the Ravens should escape with three wins. Get a fourth, and they're 10-6 and likely sneaking into the playoffs.