Steelers Backup QB Situation Unclear Heading Into Sunday

If Ben Roethlisberger is able to return this week, there’s no problem.

If he can’t, uh, Houston? You know the drill.

As implausible as it would have been to type out even a month ago, Landry Jones is likely to be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting QB Sunday afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mike Tomlin left the door open in his press game press conference, but it’d be baffling to see him choose Mike Vick over Jones based on their body of work.

If Vick is deemed healthy enough to play, he’ll be the #2 – in jersey and depth chart. But hamstrings aren’t easy to overcome, especially for a quarterback whose best plays came on the move. If he is unable to go, there is no way they can keep him on the roster. They’ll either have to Ross Ventrone him or send him to injured reserve. It would leave Jones as the only QB on the roster.

Should that scenario play out, the Steelers have two options.

1. Move Tyler Murphy back to QB, elevate him to the 53 man roster, and have him serve as the backup to Jones.

There are some valid reasons to do so. Murphy played some QB throughout the spring and training camp before moving to wide receiver. He was active for the first two games of the year and caught his first NFL pass. He’s suited up and played in an NFL stadium before. That’s certainly a plus.

But being away from the position, away from the QB room, for six weeks is an eternity. It’s like going to the gym once every three months. Yeah, you’ve done it, but don’t expect six pack abs that way. You’re basically starting over each time. An undrafted rookie who hasn’t played the position in awhile almost feels like you still have one QB on the roster. Nothing is but this isn’t ideal.

2. Sign a veteran off the street.

You’re only going to be able to teach a new guy, even an experienced one, so much during the week. But there’s enough time to install your base offense. You’ll get a player with experience who understands how to watch tape and prepare as a starter.

The available options aren’t great but nothing is at this point in the season. T.J. Yates would be my selection. He’s started seven career games, all in 2011 with the Houston Texans, including two playoff games, winning one. He’s no stranger to big-moment games in uncomfortable situations. He spent last season with the Atlanta Falcons, seeing game action once, and camp with them this season before getting released at final cutdowns.

Should the team decide against him, other options include: Matt Flynn and Tyler Thigpen.

If they go this route, whoever they would sign would probably hang onto the roster for the rest of the season as the #3 QB. Releasing a veteran would only result in a 25% termination pay – not the full base salary as it is for vested veterans signed before Week One.

There is no elixir. It’s the best of a bad situation. But that’s something this team is used to.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • NinjaMountie

    Lots of things to do this Monday for the Front Office. I would think they have to be looking for OT depth and the possibility of another backup QB.
    LJ absolutely deserves the start if Ben doesn’t go. He earned it and Vick, hammy or no, just can’t handle this offense.

  • CodeNameJerk

    I say cut Vick if not healthy and bring up Murphy. It’s risky but it’s only for one game, hopefully.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Assuming Vick can’t be the backup, it really depends how comfortable they are with Murphy. Personally I’d sign someone off the street as insurance. TJ Yates is solid. But please, regardless of who the backup is, please don’t be necessary. I think we’ve had our fair share of injuries already.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    I was all for cutting Landry Jones to use that roster sport to deepen another position. I was totally against the Steelers carrying 3 quarterbacks into the regular season – but now we see why.

    Landry Jones deserves the start if Ben is not ready; I’m ok with keeping Vick to back-up Jones if he he is healthy enough. Not sure Tyler Murphy is the answer if Vick can’t.

    As much as I’d love for Ben to rush in to save the day; the Steelers need to be disciplined and only play him if he is game ready especially with losing his blind side protector.

  • srdan

    So let me get this straight. This team is in teh market for a QB, LT and CB. The three highest paid positions in football.

    Yet we keep winning!!

  • Xclewsive

    I believe Ben will have a helmet, but may not be 100%. Nobody really knows the extent of Ben’s injury other than the Steelers FO. So his availability will be based on what he can or cannot do during practice. As far as a backup is concerned whoever it will be is only going to be around for a week, so Tyler Murphy or even Tahj Boyd would be good candidates. LT I’m not sure who’s even available, but I’d assume that player would be RT with Marcus Gilbert being the backup LT.

  • Timothy Rea

    I would cut Vick and bring in Matt Flynn. Aside from Vick’s last minute play against the chargers it’s obvious that if he’s not rolling out of the pocket he can’t see a WR if they are running open. He has no vision. His reliance on making the play himself because he has no vision won’t work. Start Landry.. have Flynn be his backup.

  • VIPSteel

    I don’t think Ben will miss next game. I think he’ll practice all this week and play whether he’s 100% or not. If he doesn’t then they should go with Jones and have Vick or Murphy be the backup. There’s no reason to sign a guy off of the streets because if they do have to play, they’ll be just as ineffective as Vick was. 8 weeks isn’t long enough to master a playbook and 6 days for damn sure isn’t.

  • AustinTxStillerFan

    Absolutely. Ben has to be READY to play. Not 50%. KC’s pass rush is the strength of their team. AV’s first start will come against that. We’ve had a glimpse of games without Ben. Let’s not make it a season without Ben by putting a gimpy knee and a new LT against Juston Houston and the gang.

  • AustinTxStillerFan

    Ben playing is what I am afraid of. Remember that SF game several years ago when he played on a gimpy leg? Ben was as much a reason for that loss as any other and his mobility was the key issue. I hope they have learned from that game and make him prove he can play at 70-80% at least. I’d rather see Landry Jones than get Ben hurt.

  • Slab

    Are any of those veterans eligible for the practice squad?

    I think you have to bring someone else in. Ben could get hurt any time. The reason Landry performed well was his comfort level with the system and other players. The sooner another QB gets into the QB room, the more likely he’ll be able to do something if called upon. It’s the single most important position on the field. The team has to be ready for another injury.

  • srdan

    A vet can’t go to a PS no matter what. It’s for first and second year players.

  • VIPSteel

    There’s a difference between those situations. Ben came back from that Ankle injury after 10 days. He didn’t even give himself a game to rest. He played the very next chance he got. This time it was supposed to be a 4 to 6 week recovery and if he plays on Sunday he’ll be playing 4 weeks after the injury. He’d be coming back right on schedule.

  • Alex Kozora

    With the new rule changes, that isn’t always true. Ventrone was on the PS last year. It’s about accrued seasons. But still, no, Yates/Flynn would not be eligible.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I thought it was a bad idea starting Vick to begin with based solely on the fact that the offense is designed for a right handed QB..

  • John

    Vick won in San Diego and should have won against the Ravens. We were in the game yesterday and then won it. And you want to cut him? With the coaching staff saying they just thought the offense heated up at the end? And you want to anoint Jones who looked awful in the preseason because he managed to make a nine yard throw at the end and lofted ones to Bryant after Vick got hurt? Then you want to pick up a waiver wire QB who does not know the offense? This is not a TV movie. Vick does not deserve to be cut — and will go on IR only if he cannot play at all due to injury. Murphy cannot play. And Jones is not the answer either. Let’s hope Ben is healthy.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Personally I want to see Jones.. I thought I would never say that but it has off-season implications. If Jones comes in and does decent against a superb pass rush then he automatically becomes the #2 and Grad is not resigned. That means we would probably draft a qb in the late rounds. Which is the most salary cap friendly move. Seeing how we more than likely will not resign Beach I think it is safe to say LT will be a high round pick regardless of how AV performs.

  • JohnB

    One thing that makes me worry if Jones is playing sunday is that Arrowhead is LOUD. It’ll be a huge away game test for him going forward if Ben cant play.

  • PittsburghSports

    I like your train of thought with Tyler Murphy in the meantime, if Vick can’t go. That’s not a long term solution, but would save us from signing a backup until Roethlisberger is properly healed. I’d hate to ignore the O Line with Beachum down, so I really hope Vick can hold the clipboard.

  • Like others here, I’m very worried about Ben rushing back next Sunday. Of course, I don’t know the status of his health. If he’s ready, he’s ready, and if the team thinks he’s good to go, well, he’s good to go. But with the wins over the Chargers and Cardinals, I think the team can afford to hold him out if he’s not 100%. Especially if he’s not, oh, 75%.

    I don’t want to make more of Landry Jones’s performance yesterday than it deserves. He was fine, but he had his problems, and while it’s pretty clear he’s better than Vick at this point, he could very well struggle badly in KC. But he deserves a shot to start. And while Vick would be the backup if he’s healthy, I’d rather the Steelers went out and grabbed Flynn or Yates (in that order). Especially if it’s Landry, the Steelers need a guy who’s been out there before, and so not Murphy.

  • wrgreatness

    Completely agree…..these people saying that Vick should be cut are total morons.

  • Timothy Rea

    Let’s agree to disagree without name calling alright? We both want the same thing in them winning. Vick from my point of view showed nothing. He’s done. Our defense kept us in these games.

  • Alex Kozora

    To be clear, cutting/IR’ing him is serving the same purpose. Not for play reasons but the fact he isn’t a healthy body – should that be the case – and the team just has to have a backup to Landry. That would be why you cut Vick.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Think like this srdan.. If Jones plays well versus KC then he has shown he can play versus a very good secondary at AZ, and a very good pass rush versus KC. He will automatically become the #2 and we will have to draft a QB, my guess late round, to groom as the #3. This is salary cap friendly seeing how Grad is making 1.6 mill. We could have Jones and a rookie and still not reach a mill in salary cap. If Boswell does good and shows consistency from beyond 50 we could cut Suisham and save 2.4 million in cap (after june 1st cut). Beach is looking like we wont resign anyways so he is 1.5 million this year in salary. At CB it is a mess, but with our front 7 the secondary isn’t as vital.

  • wrgreatness

    Vick’s running was outstanding and he made some very good throws against Baltimore and in the 4th quarter against San Diego. He did not force the ball to Bryant yesterday like he should have, I agree, but the rest of his options were very limited before that. Brown, Wheaton, and Miller are vastly overrated by most Steeler fans. They need a Bryant-type to open up the offense for them.

    Vick is a sensational talent…..I was annoyed with his nonchalance yesterday but you don’t cut players of that quality.

  • Alex Kozora

    That’s of course the best case scenario. Ben back, Jones the #2, do whatever you want with Vick. Keep him, cut him, IR, whatever. Doesn’t really matter.

    But if Vick and Ben aren’t healthy, which is totally possible, you do have to make a move. That could be promoting Murphy like you suggest but he’d be just as ineffective – maybe more – than a vet.

  • cencalsteeler

    I always said Vick was like putting a square peg into a round hole. Landry has a similar style to Ben and the Offense would be more comfortable with Jones as opposed to Vick. So, with that said, we should plan accordingly and learn from this mistake. Sign Matt Flynn and release Mike Vick. Now, we have Ben as our #1. Jones as our #2 and this buys time to groom Flynn to learn our system.

  • srdan

    My thinking exactly, I just didn’t wnat to get into the $$. Plus we get a second round CB back next year.

  • Alex Kozora

    Beachum is going to IR so the OL spot will be freed up. You’re not costing another spot by signing a QB and cutting/IR Vick.

  • chris ward

    If Vick can’t go cut him and sign a veteran backup.

  • walter mason


  • Timothy Rea

    That would be a first that i’ve heard that Brown & Miller are overrated. Yeah Vick made some good moves in 10% of the San Diego game but the other 90% as well as the 100% he played against the cards was the opposite of sensational. He thankfully protected the ball to keep us within striking distance but a QB who can go through his progressions 50% of the time would be able to put both games away much sooner.

  • You say that Brown, Wheaton, and Miller are not just overrated, but vastly so, while using the words outstanding and very good to describe Vick. And you’re calling people total morons.

    Hyperbole much? Or trolling?

  • NW86

    If they’re going with option #2, they are working on that now, and we should hear about a veteran QB coming in by the end of the day. They would need to get him his playbook ASAP. If we don’t hear anything today, I think we can eliminate that option.
    Then the question will be, are they that confident that 2 of the 3 current QB’s will be ready to suit up, or are they prepared to go with Tyler Murphy as the emergency guy?

  • My head would explode, Scanners’ style, if Vick got the start over a healthy Landry.

  • VIPSteel

    Exactly. I don’t know Vick’s entire on field issue, but I do know the learning curve for our offense is unavoidable. A new guy would have a lot of the same struggles Vick did.

  • walter mason

    Vick looked horrible. We won despite him. However I’m not certain Jones is the second coming of Johnny Unitas however he was decisive and better prepared in the win.

  • Michael James

    I think it is just a bad situation. If Vick can’t play (backup) and Ben isn’t ready to go, we would have to do something. But I don’t think a veteran would help much, considering he would have roughly 4 days to learn something about the offense and Vick still struggles after 2 months.

  • PittsburghSports

    I mean if Vick isn’t cut. Like say his hamstring is only a week or so from being healed, and the Steelers want to hold on to him.

  • walter mason

    Could we play Jones with Ben as back up only if needed?

  • Slab

    Thanks Alex!

  • Alex Kozora

    And so would Murphy. Vick is one of the least cerebral QBs to play. A new guy would struggle, but not to that degree.

  • Alex Kozora

    Only way I see Ben active is if he’s starting.

  • Alex Kozora

    Ah, gotcha. Well I assume that if Vick is kept, he’s deemed healthy enough to play. And he’ll be Jones’ backup.

  • Alex Kozora

    That process naturally happens throughout the year. Teams workout players each week to update their emergency lists. They probably already know the guys they want to bring in. No idea who they are though – Steelers are good at keeping that quiet.

  • Bill

    I’m not a ‘lets cut Vick’ guy but you people who are saying he is anything like a winning NFL quarterback are quite blind. Simply put he cannot play the position anymore. I live in NJ and watched him play three games with the Jets a year ago and I said when the Steelers picked him up that he could no longer play at even an average level. It takes more than just ” being an experienced veteran”. It’s a shame to watch him now with the picture of what he once was still in your head. He was an exiting, dynamic player whose fantastic running ability made him a star. In the game today, you’ve must be at least a functional passer to have success. In what I’ve seen over the last five games he’s played, he just isn’t. Also take yesterday’s game by Jones with a large grain of salt; How many times have we seen a back up QB have a sensational first game and then fade to black: Clint Longley, Matt Flynn, Frank Reich, etc. ring any bells?

  • The Notorious TOM

    Did Brendon Kay stay in shape?

  • Deuce22

    Any chance Ben would be backup in case of emergency? He seems 85-90% ready to go. Just a thought.

  • Putter

    …ever wonder what Tajh Boyd is doing? Nah, me neither…..

  • Shane Mitchell

    Landry Jones does not deserve to start and Mike Tomlin will not start him ahead of a healthy Mike Vick.
    Big deal he made a couple easy throws staring down one receiver, Bryant made those plays not Jones.
    Ball security isnt a Landry Jones strongpoint or accuracy and mobility. Playing a team with a good pass rush Mike Vick if healty is the better option at QB.

  • John

    No one has said Vick’s hamstring is season ending or would prevent snaps as an emergency back up. No one has said Ben cannot take snaps as an emergency backup and hand off or throw quick slants. Both of those options are better than a guy off the street that does not know the plays. And we no doubt have an emergency 4th QB to hand off only. There is no issue even to discuss right now. We got Vick off the street because we thought he was the best guy and he has had multiple weeks in the system and two weeks getting all reps in practice. Bringing in someone new is just absurd barring a season ending real injury.

  • John

    My sense is the offensive game plan is to be very conservative early, not turn it over, try to keeps the score down and then see where we are in the third and fourth quarters. This plays into what we saw last week and this week. Neither Vick or Jones is a good option — but I think the play-calling and desire to avoid mistakes is what the coaching staff is looking for.

  • NW86

    When they say 4-6 weeks, they mean that they expect him to miss 4-6 weeks, not miss 3 and come back in the 4th. Playing this week would be ahead of the estimate – I’m not saying it’s the wrong move, but it should only happen if he can demonstrate mobility in practice to the coaches.

  • NW86

    I don’t think a vet could come in and be any more effective than Murphy in 3 days of practice. In another week or two, maybe, but we don’t need him for multiple weeks, just 1 week (I would hope that Ben or Vick would at least be ready by Nov 1). So I say stick with Murphy for the 1-week backup job.

  • Shane Mitchell

    It would only take a couple of patented Landry Jones ints or sack fumbles for everyone to come to their senses. Landry Jones is not a starter or a legitimate backup NFL QB at this point in his career. What we saw was an anomaly not the norm. This team has been winning by avoiding turnovers and just making a couple of plays here and there when needed.

    Landry Jones trying to wing the ball around the field facing a team that pressures the QB consistently every play would not be good.

    Think about it, if it was down to a two minute drill to get into FG range to win the game, Mike Vick is much more of a threat with his scrambling ability than Jones is with his arm. Teams have to be careful blitzing against Vick, Landry Jones not so much.

  • george

    Flynn had tendinitis in the elbow. Not sure if he can sling it anymore.

  • Ask Questions Later

    If Ben is ready, play him. If not, DO. NOT. RISK. IT. Not worth it; doubly so since that Kansas City defense is not easy to go up against. Add Travis “Zeus” Kelce for their offense and their adds another issue.

  • Ask Questions Later

    He meant Senquez, who is a cornerback.

  • sixnine

    are you sure bout that? i watched Arizona blitz Landry yesterday on a key third down late in the game and he made a crucial hot read to Heath Miller for 5 yards.This play isnt talked about enough because it shows his poise and knowledge of where everyone is on the field.He spent the last 3 years playing with back ups in pre season and practice so how can we judge based on that.Im no Jones advocate but his confidence was shown yesterday, he was giving blocking assignments and audibles at the line.This kid is no sitting duck with our first unit, playmakers at every level. Do you really feel Andy Reid is up at night worried bout L.J? he is scheming to stop our weapons, if they win their battles then Landry wins his……I’m not worried if he starts…I love vick but Landry suits our 30 ppg offense better

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    At the least, they should be bringing in guys for tryouts. I’d also look at Ponder.

  • Edo M

    Have no idea why a healthy Vick would even be considered to start the next game over Jones. Putting him on the team to begin with (another Tomlin genius move) was a horrible choice. He’s not backup quarterback material for all the obvious reasons. He is also left handed. He also is as brittle can be.

  • Shane Mitchell

    He suits the offense better but I dont think trying to run a prolific offense with Jones making the decisions is a winning game plan. They just need to keep managing the games, keep them close and not turn the ball over until Ben is back healthy. Of course fans wont want to see that, but it gives the team the best chance to win.

  • wrgreatness

    I completely disagree about the San Diego game…..Verrett was owning Brown and there was nowhere to go with the ball. Against Arizona, Vick should have gone to Bryant much more than he did, no question about that. That was his main mistake.

    As for Brown and Miller being overrated, yes, they absolutely are. Roethlisberger’s excellence has made Brown look better than he is, just as Roethlisberger’s excellence made Holmes and Wallace look better than they were. Miller is the least athletic and least explosive starting tight end in the NFL…..a good 80’s tight end with solid hands catching to his chest but not a serious weapon in the modern-day NFL. Roethlisberger is simply a terrific quarterback for giving these guys the reputations they have.

  • wrgreatness

    No, I stand by what I am saying. Some people not only say that Brown is a good player with great route running and great hands; they actually call him the best wide receiver in the league. That is absolutely laughable and a case of completely overrating someone. No question Brown is a good player and an admirable overachiever, but he is nowhere close to being the best receiver in the league.

    Wheaton is solid but every NFL team has receivers of that caliber, and Miller is probably the least athletic starting tight end in the NFL. He makes no jumpball plays or athletic catches; just catches passes to his chest area.

    Martavis Bryant has a much better claim to having the sort of talent that warrants being called a Top 5 NFL receiver…..he does have that kind of AJ Green or Josh Gordon ability. No question about that.

  • Zarbor

    I’m sure Antonio Brown would agree with you about Vick… do the rest of us in the Nation. Time to move on from Vick.

  • Alex Kozora

    Sorry John, have to disagree. It doesn’t need to be season-ending to end his season. And judging by his comments today, it seems unlikely he’ll be healthy enough to dress. Ben isn’t going to dress unless he’s going to start. They’re very likely going to need somebody to back up Jones. And there aren’t any options on this roster.

  • Steel City Slim

    I’d almost rather go with Charlie Batch. He knows Haley’s offense. I don’t know what type of shape that he is in, but I do recall him saying earlier this year that he would come back if the Steelers called him. Couldn’t be a worse option than what is out there.

  • The GreekGeek

    I think they restructured Sushi at the beginning of the year, so I don’t think you would see much cap savings by cutting him…

  • Melly

    Vick is a sensational talent? Gmb!!! That ship sailed many many years ago. I’ll give him credit for the drive vs SD, but by the 3rd quarter of that game, and vs Ari…I was screaming for Landry(and I don’t have much faith in Landry either)!!

  • walter mason

    I’m replying to his other comment that we are in the market for CB LT and QB. I added safety. I didn’t even see this comment and I don’t know why my comment is not in the proper place where I put it. Actually I think it is.

  • thomas hmmmm

    I believe I got those numbers from overthecap.. I assume they are pretty accurate. The savings is always more after June 1 and I assume they would have them battle until the end of camp.