Don't Be Fooled by 5-3 Record, Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh Steelers Stink

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 9, 2021

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 08: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is sacked by outside linebacker Robert Quinn #94 of the Chicago Bears during the first half at Heinz Field on November 8, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A win is a win. But not all wins should be treated the same. 

The fact of the matter is the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to hold their collective breaths as the Chicago Bears attempted a potential game-winning 65-yard field goal and survived with a 29-27 victory Monday at Heinz Field. 

The 3-6 Bears easily drove down the field with three minutes remaining and grabbed a lead only to make mistake after mistake to help the Steelers overcome. 

Usually, an argument can be made that good teams find a way to win despite the circumstances. In this case, the Steelers lucked into a winning record thanks to sloppy, undisciplined play from the Bears combined with a little help from the officials. 

The path toward victories has become a trend in recent weeks, and the franchise is being held back more by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger than he's elevating the squad. 

Over the last month, the Steelers have benefited greatly from a favorable schedule littered with mediocre teams who faced significant obstacles. 

In Week 5, a poor game script by the Denver Broncos set back modern offensive football decades with its repetitive run-run-pass approach. Yet with a three-score second-half lead, Pittsburgh allowed Denver to get back into the game once Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur finally expanded the playbook and opened up the passing game. During the final drive and down by one touchdown plus a two-point conversion, the Broncos drove the ball to Pittsburgh's 3-yard line before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw an interception. 

In Week 6, Mike Tomlin's squad hosted the Seattle Seahawks, sans quarterback Russell Wilson, who injured his middle finger on his throwing hand the week prior. Despite Wilson's absence, the Steelers still surrendered over 300 yards of offense and needed overtime to secure a victory. In fact, backup-turned-starter Geno Smith, who hadn't started a game since the 2017 campaign, posted a higher quarterback rating (99.6) than Roethlisberger (94.7). 

After the team's bye, Pittsburgh faced the banged-up Browns.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Kareem Hunt, cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive ends Takkarist McKinley and Jadeveon Clowney, standout rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr.—before his release—and Donovan Peoples-Jones were either inactive or limited by lingering injuries. Right tackle Jack Conklin suffered a dislocated elbow during the contest, too. 

Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

Injuries may be part of the game, but Cleveland has been hit hard, specifically with key contributors. Even so, the Browns had the ball inside Pittsburgh's 35-yard line twice with the game on the line, only to see their wide receivers let them down with a fumble by Jarvis Landry and a key drop on a fourth-down play. Before that point, the Steelers required an insane end-zone reception on fourth down just to take a fourth-quarter lead. 

Monday's effort had a little help. 

First of all, the Bears are terrible at game-planning around their new franchise quarterback. Matt Nagy and Co. struggle to place Justin Fields in a position to succeed. Given time and possibly a new system or staff, Fields could be special and he showed why late in the contest by driving the Bears 75 yards in seven plays with less than three minutes left. Chicago's offense managed 414 yards from scrimmage. 

Though the Bears made mistake after mistake, even when they didn't actually make a mistake. Officially, Chicago registered 12 penalties for 115 yards. Typically, a team shouldn't ever blame the officials for a loss. Too many plays within the confines of an NFL game could change the outcome. Horrendous calls severely hampered the Bears' chances of winning in this particular contest. Two stick out like sore thumbs. 

A phantom pass-interference call on cornerback Jaylon Johnson turned into a 30-yard penalty, which completely flipped the field. Four plays later, Chris Boswell booted a 54-yard field goal. 

On 3rd-and-8 with 3:40 remaining and a tenuous six-point lead, the Bears sacked Roethlisberger. Officials called Cassius Marsh for taunting because he stared at the opposing sideline. The resulting penalty yardage allowed the drive to continue and it resulted in yet another Boswell field goal.

"I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Steelers and posture in a way that I felt he was taunting them," referee Tony Corrente rationalized

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

A six-point swing in a game decided by two points that weren't scored until the final 30 seconds of the game is a tough pill to swallow. 

"B.S. at the end of the day," Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said

Whatever the case, the Steelers still own the AFC North's second-best record. 

"We're finding ways to win the game," Roethlisberger told reporters after the game. "We're playing well enough. Not great, but, offensively speaking, we're just doing enough right now." 

Maybe others on offense are doing enough. Roethlisberger isn't. His limitations as a passer and athlete become more glaring every week. Don't let a zone-read late in the game fool anyone, because Big Ben moves about as well as his namesake. The 39-year-old quarterback's issues with pushing the ball downfield field any velocity remain evident, too. In fact, he tied for 25th going into Monday's game with an average of 6.6 yards per attempt. He was right around his average with 6.8 yards per attempt against the Bears, who didn't have Khalil Mack or Eddie Jackson on the field. 

Pittsburgh will need a better version of Roethlisberger in the coming weeks because the schedule becomes more difficult.

Aside from the winless Detroit Lions in Week 10—which should be an automatic victory—the Steelers face the Los Angeles Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens (twice, including Week 18), Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns down the stretch. The franchise might need all the wins it could muster through the middle portion of the season just to stay afloat. 

Or, the Steelers can keep on winning ugly. Maybe they'll even make the playoffs. But what does it matter when this is a team seemingly destined to be bounced out of the first round? Finding ways to win against middling-to-bad opponents isn't the same as being an actual good team. Pittsburgh has done the former but it's far from the latter. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.