Ron Cook: A problem with the Steelers quarterback situation
Share with others:
Remember the fabulous line from "Cool Hand Luke," one of Paul Newman's all-time great movies?
"What we got here is a failure to communicate."
I'm thinking Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has that problem with his quarterbacks.
Either that or Tomlin has absolutely no faith in third-stringer Charlie Batch.
Either way, there's a problem.
In a 13-10 loss Sunday night to the Baltimore Ravens, Tomlin allowed Byron Leftwich to play the entire game after Leftwich broke two ribs, apparently when he fell into the end zone on his 31-yard touchdown scramble just 43 seconds into the game. Leftwich kept telling Tomlin he was OK. Tomlin kept him in the game even as Leftwich was taking a fierce beating, perhaps the most punishing blow coming from safety James Ihedigbo on a blind-side blitz with fewer than five minutes left. Leftwich went back out for the final possession and clearly had difficulty throwing the ball. I guess Tomlin thought he was a better option than Batch.
Late last season in a 20-3 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco, Tomlin allowed Ben Roethlisberger to play on a badly sprained left ankle, an injury from a week earlier in a win against the Cleveland Browns. Roethlisberger kept telling Tomlin he was good to go. Tomlin kept him in until late in the game, long after the outcome had been decided, even though Roethlisberger had no mobility. He threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles that game. I guess Tomlin thought he was a better option than Batch.
Do you sense a trend here?
Tomlin blew it in both games.
Leftwich's toughness is admirable. It's hard to blame him for doing all he could to stay in against the Ravens. He missed all but mop-up duty in the final game of the 2010 season after a knee injury in the final exhibition game. He missed all of last season because of a broken left arm in the third exhibition game. This, finally, was his chance to play. They were going to have to drag him off the field.
But Leftwich was selfish. He ended up hurting the team.
Roethlisberger's toughness is legendary. This is a guy who beat the Ravens in Baltimore in 2010 playing on a broken foot with a broken nose. There's no way he was going to talk himself out of the lineup in San Francisco. It was a big game. He lives for big games. I've never been around a player who was more competitive.
But Roethlisberger was selfish. He ended up hurting the team. He admitted as much in the offseason.
Still, I'm blaming Tomlin. It's not a player's call to decide who plays and who doesn't. It's a coach's decision. He can't just listen to what the player has to say. He has to trust his eyes and do what's best for his team. Tomlin failed the Steelers in the 49ers game and the Ravens game.
It's one thing for Tomlin to want to start Roethlisberger in San Francisco. Roethlisberger is his best. It's also OK for Tomlin to think Leftwich is a better quarterback than Batch. Tomlin sees the two every day in practice. A coach has to go with the guy whom he thinks gives the team the best chance to win.
But there's something very wrong when a coach sticks with a guy who physically can't play rather than go to the backup. If Tomlin thinks that little of Batch then Batch shouldn't be on the team.
All of which brings us to the unwanted man.
How ironic is it that Batch is the last man -- the only man -- standing again with the familiar charge of trying to save Tomlin and the Steelers?
With Roethlisberger expected to miss his second consecutive game with shoulder and rib injuries and Leftwich presumably out, Batch must start Sunday against the Browns in Cleveland.
Surely, Tomlin will speak glowingly of Batch today at his weekly news conference. He will talk about how much faith he and the team have in him. Next man up, right? Pardon me if I don't believe it. Tomlin's actions with Batch speak otherwise. He has been trying to get rid of him for years. Batch simply refuses to go away.
The Steelers traded for Leftwich before the 2010 season to be the starter during Roethlisberger's four-game suspension. Batch wouldn't have made the team if not for Leftwich's knee injury. He almost certainly would be in his third season of retirement.
Dennis Dixon started the first two games in 2010 but was injured early in the second game at Tennessee. Batch came on to lead the Steelers to a win in that game, then threw three touchdown passes in the next game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had the team in position to win the following game against the Ravens, but the defense couldn't hold a late lead.
Batch also played well in his only start last season. He led the Steelers to a 27-0 win against the St. Louis Rams a week after the loss in San Francisco. He is 5-2 as a Steelers starter.
Now, Batch will get another start.
It's a good thing he's such a great team player and will go into the game with a clear head and no bitterness.
Tomlin might not know it, but Tomlin and the Steelers are lucky to have him.
First Published November 20, 2012 12:00 am