PITTSBURGH (AP) —When things go well, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is quick to deflect praise elsewhere.
And when they don’t, he’s just as quick to shoulder the responsibility regardless of how many yards he passes for or touchdowns he throws.
“We take these losses on us as an offense, and me as a leader of the offense, I take it on myself that we haven’t done enough to score enough points to win football games,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “So, offensively we need to be better and we will be better.”
Thing is, on paper Pittsburgh’s offense looks fine. The Steelers (1-2-1) are a respectable sixth in total yards and 10th in points heading into Sunday’s visit from Atlanta (1-3).
The problem is the success has come in fits and spurts. Consistency has been elusive. For every 21-point flurry — such as the one against Kansas City in Week 2 that helped them escape from an early hole — there have been large swathes of meh.
And while coach Mike Tomlin is frustrated by his team’s slow starts — the Steelers have been outscored 42-6 in the first quarter — the finishes haven’t been great either. Pittsburgh has just one fourth-quarter touchdown through four games, a 3-yard dive by Roethlisberger in the waning moments against the Chiefs.
The Steelers often look dynamic and vulnerable in the same half, a sporadic juggernaut that doesn’t exactly have Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takk McKinley overly concerned. The brash second-year player is eager to get a look at Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and the rest of a team coming off its worst September in five years.
“Big Ben, you know, he’s one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but he hasn’t seen Takk McKinley, and that’s just me being honest,” said McKinley, who already has five sacks this season. “So, great quarterback and respect him, but he hasn’t seen me.”
There’s no specific area that’s lacking for the Steelers, though the running game has gone silent for long stretches since James Conner piled up 135 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Cleveland. Rock bottom — at least what the Steelers hope is rock bottom — came last week against Baltimore when Pittsburgh managed just 19 yards rushing on 11 carries.
“I know everybody wants to see the run game and trust me, as an offensive lineman, we want to see it to,” Pouncey said. “It’s early in the season, things will come along.”
The anticipated arrival of All-Pro Le’Veon Bell — who told ESPN earlier this week he plans to report later this month — should help.
Of course, that’s predicated on Bell not changing his mind in the interim. Until Bell’s familiar No 26 goes from hanging idly in the locker room to the field, Conner will continue to do his part. The issue is a lack of chances.
The Steelers ran the ball just three times in the second half against Baltimore even though the game was tied at the break. That’s not exactly a firm commitment to taking some of the load off Roethlisberger’s considerable shoulders and giving the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense a true breather.
Still, there’s also a point where running it for the sake of running it reaches a point of diminishing returns.
“You don’t want to run into a brick wall, that’s idiotic as a team,” Ramon Foster said. “We’ve got to be a team that understands the situation we are put in and maximize those.”
That includes creating a cleaner pocket for Roethlisberger to work in. The 36-year-old has been erratic at times. He was brilliant in the first half against Tampa Bay two weeks ago — when he threw three touchdowns to help stake the Steelers to a 20-point lead — and all over the place in the second half against the Ravens as they consistently disrupted his timing.
“There’s a couple of times on film, if Ben didn’t have a little bit of pressure, AB is going across the middle wide open,” Foster said. “The thing that is going to help us more is just owning up to what we’re doing and taking care of the small pieces.”
Having a defense that doesn’t seem to find its footing until after it has given up multiple scores isn’t helping. The Steelers have allowed opponents to score first in each of the past three games, developments that have rendered portions of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s game plan moot.
Not that Roethlisberger wants to talk about it. Yes the offense has been forced to play catch-up a lot. But it’s not as if there’s no time left on the clock when these outbursts happened. Pittsburgh tied Baltimore with 2:50 left in the first half and didn’t score again. That can’t happen, particularly in a season where more points are being scored than ever before.
There’s time to get it fixed, yes. Just not as much as there was.
“We’re looking at this next week and trying to get a win because that’s all that really matters,” Roethlisberger said. “If this has to happen it’s better to have it early in the season than middle or late in the season.”
NOTES: LB Vince Williams (hamstring) and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (ankle). … S Morgan Burnett (groin) was limited. … CB Mike Hilton (elbow) was a full participant, as was K Chris Boswell (left foot). … Pouncey, Roethlisberger and CB Joe Haden were given the day off.
By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer