Historically, quarterbacks have been fair game for second-guessing and criticism, and that goes for even the best. But usually those harsh comments come from the media and fans. They almost never come from a teammate. This week was the rare exception.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark called out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in an ESPN interview when he said, ``We have to tone Ben down in a sense and say, 'Hey, right now, we're not a good enough football team for you to try to extend plays, for us to take sacks, for us to have turnovers.' "
Coming from an outside source, that would be a mild, although not necessarily fair, criticism. Coming from a teammate, it borders on outrageous.
Clark is a smart guy who has an excellent ability to articulate his thoughts to the media and public. He's a great interview and he could have a big-time future in broadcasting. Maybe, though, he shouldn't be auditioning for his next career while he's still involved with his present one. Maybe he shouldn't be quite so concerned about offering good sound bytes to a future employer.
Clark, a team captain, gave ESPN exactly what it wanted. He gave Mike Tomlin exactly what he didn't want.
This isn't to suggest this comment will lead to some sort of rupture in the Steelers locker room. In the best of times, 53 guys don't all get along. It is to suggest it was not wise, unnecessary and, worse, the specific criticism was wrong.
Of course, Roethlisberger needs to cut down on his turnovers. You don't need to be a future ESPN analysts to deduce that. But to suggest Roethlisberger needs to tone down his game is an incorrect evaluation. Roethlisberger is in his 10th NFL season. He's not about to change. Nor should he.
This is what current ESPN analyst Bill Polian, a highly successful NFL general manager, said about Roethlisberger after his performance against the Minnesota Vikings:
``Ben Roethlisberger put on the greatest single individual display, south of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Drew Brees, that I have seen in a long time, maybe in my entire career. I mean he was just phenomenal.
``He avoided or shrugged off at least four sacks. He made plays down the field that were unbelievable. He was under duress all night from snap one."
That doesn't sound like a guy who needs to tone down his style of play.
Roethlisberger's style of play, particularly behind the current offensive line, is necessary for him to perform successfully. He won't make it with that line with a more conservative stand-in-the-pocket approach. As Polian indicated, Roethlisberger's 'playground' style is what makes him so good.
Give a chance to clarify his comments by Pittsburgh reporters, Clark said, ``When asked a question about Ben, I said, we need to protect Ben. And, when I say that, [I mean] defense, we need to make plays so he doesn't feel like he has to do everything. Offensively, we need to protect him so he can get the ball out on his fifth step; receivers need to get open, running backs need to run the ball.
``But, in that as well, I feel like he needs to understand that, as constructed right now, we aren't playing well enough right now as a team to where we can take sacks and have turnovers. So, as a team, that's a team solution.
There's not a football team in existence that can afford to take sacks and have turnovers, so on this particular sound byte Clark fails, although his effort to repair any damage was commendable.
When Roethlisberger, also a team captain, was asked about Clark's comments he said, ``I didn't hear about [that]. It is what it is. I'm just going to play the game the way that I play it and try not to turn it over."
Well said, Ben. That choice of words might not get you a network job, but it's what the Steelers -- as opposed to ESPN -- need to hear.
First Published October 10, 2013 8:34 PM