PITTSBURGH (AP) – Ben Roethlisberger skipped practice on Wednesday, sent home early by the coaching staff thanks to a nasty cold spreading across the locker room.
A little down time to clear his sinuses – and maybe his head – should help as the Pittsburgh Steelers and their franchise quarterback try to regroup following last Sunday’s debacle in Baltimore, a loss that highlighted a troubling trend. For all of the eye-popping numbers Roethlisberger and the Steelers have put up this season, there’s something about the offense that gets lost in translation when Pittsburgh takes its high-flying offense away from Heinz Field.
The Steelers (9-6) averaged 29.5 points and 413 yards of offense while going 6-2 at Heinz this season, a level of production they haven’t been able to sustain on the road. Pittsburgh is averaging 21.4 points and 372 yards in its away uniforms after the Ravens led all the way in a 20-17 victory last Sunday that put the Steelers’ once promising playoff chances in some very serious peril.
While an oasis likely awaits in Cleveland – where the Steelers are 12-4 since the Browns returned in 1999 – Pittsburgh will spend the playoffs (if the Steelers even make it) crisscrossing North America. It’s a path the franchise followed to its fifth Super Bowl title a decade ago, a point in time when Roethlisberger was still an NFL neophyte and the defense was the best in the league.
That’s not the case anymore. The Steelers likely will go only as far as Roethlisberger and arguably the league’s best wide receiving trio will take them. At times this season, that hasn’t been far enough. A demanding road schedule – including trips to New England and Seattle – hasn’t helped. Neither did early season suspensions to running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant and injuries to Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey.
“I can’t tell you why (we’ve had issues),” wide receiver Markus Wheaton said Wednesday. “It’s just about staying on the details, focusing on the details throughout the week and they’ll take care of themselves on gameday.”
That didn’t happen against the Ravens. An early fourth-down gamble backfired and Baltimore’s offense spent most of the day playing keep away. Still, Pittsburgh had the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead late only to have Roethlisberger finish a largely miserable afternoon with incompletions to Bryant and Wheaton.
The fourth-down miss to Wheaton came when Wheaton turned inside to look for the ball while Roethlisberger threw outside.
Wheaton took responsibility for the mix-up, saying he needs to go where Roethlisberger wants him to go. Still, Roethlisberger’s sharp play dulls when forced to hop a plane for a game. Since the start of 2014, the four-time Pro Bowler has thrown 39 touchdowns against 11 interceptions at home. Compare that to 11 touchdowns and 12 picks on the road. He gave it away twice against the Ravens and had a pick-six called back by an offsides call.
Roethlisberger said repeatedly “it’s my fault” in the aftermath. A win in Cleveland and a loss by the New York Jets on Sunday would give the Steelers a shot at redemption. If not, a long offseason awaits.
“We’ve got to find a way to take our show on the road, try and play better on the road,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We know how hard it is … if we’re going to be the team we desire to be, we have to find a way to win on the road.”