Film Room: Red Zone Interception Ben’s Fault, Not Haley’s

All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ red zone offense was less efficient than the layout of the Fort Pitt Bridge. It can be traced back to a lot of issues, poor playcalls and a lack of execution. Ben Roethlisberger was responsible for one of those on a play where most were quick to blame Todd Haley.

Roethlisberger threw a pick to Eric Berry towards the end of the first half, turning the ball back over to the Chiefs following a Steelers’ interception. And it was entirely his fault.

As the broadcast did a good job of explaining, and helping to take the heat off Haley, this was a hot route from Roethlisberger. It was a called run by Haley, a give to Le’Veon Bell, but Roethlisberger saw something else and decided to try to hit Antonio Brown on a backshoulder throw.

Hard to tell what’s the signal here based off the TV copy. We’re used to seeing Big Ben’s famous facemask grab, but he may have finally abandoned it because of how obvious it’s become. Might be a subtle nod and look  to AB pre-snap and the two have such good chemistry, that’s all that is needed.

Brown looks to fun the fade against the corner. But OLB Frank Zombo reads it the whole way and swats the pass, knocking the ball into the air. Berry does what he does so well, finding the football, laying out, and picking the pass off.

Chris Collinsworth pointed it out on the broadcast but we’ll talk about it once more. If this was a called pass, Alejandro Villanueva would’ve cut Zombo to knock his arms down so he can’t get in the throwing lane.

So clear run call with Roethlisberger throwing hot. In hindsight, probably not a great decision and the execution was obviously a disaster. There are things to blame Haley for in this one. But this play? Nah, not one of them. Let your friends around the water cooler know about this one.

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.

  • psteelers

    This was obvious.

  • The Chin

    I think it was a back shoulder throw but either way, give the ball to the Bell Cow for crying out loud

  • pittsburghjoe

    I know this comment will probably get a reaction, but does anyone else think Ben has hit the decline phase? When he gets sacked now, I just hold my breath. I think the cumulative hits have taken their toll and has lead to increased fragility. I also think his throws have declined. He is good enough but not what he once was.

  • srdan

    He wasn’t even remotely open

  • srdan

    I think that he hasn’t played well. But i was one of the people saying that Rodgers was on a decline early this year. So I’m not quick to say Ben is on a decline.

    But over this year, I pointed out time and again that ben made poor decisions, or was innacurate. People would reply “he threw 3 touchdowns, you are nitpicking”. The truth is, Ben hasn’t played well this year.

  • SfSteeler

    no doubt…play calling questions, Ben average on the road again, overthrowing 7’6′ TEs…

    thank you KC for all your droped balls!

  • We have seen this work at least 4 or 5 times this year. Maybe Brown comes down with it, maybe he doesn’t but it has worked in the past.

    It’s always easy to second guess what the right call is afterwards, hindsight is always 20/20 after all.

    Obviously, we all would have like a TD there or give Bell got the ball instead. But if the play works, were talking about “how great a check to that was with the defense selling out against the run” or “how can you not throw to AB against single coverage in that situation?”

    Yea it’s easy to look back and go “why?”

  • Froggy

    He’s 34 years old – it would be a miracle if he wasn’t in the decline phase of his career. I don’t think that he’s more fragile than he used to be, but his throwing seems to have declined somewhat and his foot speed has fallen off a cliff (the same thing happened to Heath Miller in his last couple of seasons, and Heath is seven months younger than Ben). He’s still way better than average, but yeah, he’s declining in a lot of ways.

  • falconsaftey43

    He hasn’t played well this year, that’s for sure. Hopefully he rebounds a bit. But I doubt he starts getting better at this point in his career. He’s missing throws more than he used to I think, which is the most concerning thing. When a play is there and you go for it, have to be able to hit it. I don’t think his decision making is that different, it was never his best attribute.

  • falconsaftey43

    I’m never against giving AB a chance when it’s 1-on-1. Especially on an early down. Would be nice to have a check for the line too though…

  • Chris92021

    I wouldn’t go that far. Big Ben is still a great QB. However, he is not consistent. Look at someone like Rodgers or Brady; in a 16 game season, they might have 1 or 2 crappy games where nothing is going right for them, throw 3 or more picks, etc. Big Ben will have 4-6 of those games a year but they would be offset by a couple of 5 TD games. The problem with the Steelers were (until the Dallas game) is that depending on Big Ben to be Rodgers or Brady was not sustainable and the Steelers as a team finally moved on from it. We are now at the point where Big Ben can throw 3 picks and 0 TDs and we still dominate games (see the Buffalo game). What we are doing now, relying on the offensive line and putting our offense on 3rd and short situations is sustainable. This is why I have faith that we can win in New England unlike in years’ past when we had to wonder if the good Big Ben would show up and match Brady one pass after another. Now, we don’t have to.

  • Yea, maybe there is and AV missed the call, it was loud as hell there.

  • capehouse

    Great breakdown. Haley was taking a beat down last night on message boards and social media, and some of it rightly so, but not in this case and not when Ben checked out of a run on 2nd and 2 from the 5 on the first drive. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the extreme crowd noise that close to the end zone, but you’d expect better decision making from Ben. I just don’t understand why he’s become such a liability in certain games, specifically ones on the road.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Hey the Steelers won in spite of Roethlisberger. History has shown he has brain farts from time to time LOL

    As much as I would like to see the Steelers beat those a hole Patriots it ain’t going to happen. Brady won’t/doesn’t miss the same kind throws Smith did.

    Hoping the offense get it going (touchdowns)

  • Rodgers was horrible the first half of this year. Boy did he have one hell of a turn a round the second half of this year. To be fair, I think he was playing hurt earlier in the year

  • Zuami Montanez

    When the play happened, I was just thinking if bell gets the ball he can get about 4 yards or possibly score. Gotta smarten up Ben.

  • Steeldog22

    I think they took the play calling out of Ben’s hands a bit after that, just watching the game with him checking his wrist from calls in from Haley and seeing a few frustrated looks from Ben. Look, we’ve complained about Haley at times and then praised Ben when we’ve gone no huddle with him at the helm. Our offense has performed very well this year with the inclusion of more run pass option. Ben does a decent job of it and I would say better than most (nobody pays mind to it when it works). I don’t like the play last night, but if you’re going to run it first down is probably the best time to do so. 9.5 times out of 10 that is either a completion or out of bounds off the back shoulder. The fact it was tipped and picked sucks, but it is a great reminder going into face the Pats. That said, can’t put the shackles on Ben or you start to see them stuffing Bell like they did later in the game.

  • Chris92021

    Not just playing hurt as you mentioned but also trying to figure out how to play without a real running back. It is a testament to Rodgers’ persistence and talent. Much like our defense at the midpoint of the season trying to figure out how to play without Cam Heyward and also waiting to see if the light bulb for Jarvis Jones would finally go on. But still, I contend that Big Ben is not consistent enough to be relied upon. Our offensive line and Le’Veon Bell, the way they play, that is sustainable and why I am excited for this Sunday instead of dreading it like I would have in years’ past.

  • Thomas Weber

    I was saying it last night, what was one of the big things that has gotten Pittsburgh this far? The run game. Le’Veon Bell. So why, why play grab ass and switch a play at the line of scrimmage. Especially against a defense that was weak against the run. Play like this against New England and the game will be over before it even starts. Pittsburgh CAN BEAT THE PATRIOTS!!!! Even in Foxboro, but Ben is going to need a flawless game, and to have that at times swallow his pride and stay with the play Todd Haley calls.

  • All good points. And an improved defense and should be able to pressure Brady if that ball isn’t out in 2 seconds.

    Brady was off his game against Houston, I hope Butler and Tomlin find way to exploit that weak O line in NE. Because you know Belichick is looking for ways to hide the weakness.

  • Chris92021

    I am fully expecting Bud Dupree to have his Von Miller moment against Marcus Cannon. I always wondered what we would do if we had 7, 84, 26, and 53 against New England. For the first time ever, we will have all four men going in there. As for the defense, I hope our rookies hold up against Brady. If they do, we will be fine.

  • RickM

    I think most correct attributed this to Ben after Collingsworth pointed it out. Great play by Zombo, but very, very poor situational football by Roethlisberger.

    Now, please explain why Haley, after calling a great opening drive, passed twice on 2nd and 2 from the 5 yard-line. I felt like Larry and Curly took over as OC and QB once we hit the 5-yard-line.

  • Paddy

    No that was Moe at the controls

  • Jason Vancil

    I think he desperately needs a second option he can trust in the passing game. It is obvious not having a Bryant or Wheaton that he has full confidence in leads him to zero in on AB, perhaps more than he should.

  • RickM

    Went by physical appearance on that one. Stooge calls no matter what names are used.

  • Jason Vancil

    For some reason he has really struggled on the road the last couple of seasons. Just look at his splits home/road and you’ll see. It is stark.

  • Rye Stye

    Without numerous glaring needs in the offseason, this is the year that we really need to secure a future QB in the draft. Someone in the first three rounds depending on who is available and scouting reports. They can then study under Ben for a year and we’ll see what 2019 brings.

  • gentry_gee

    Ben is just playing so poorly these days. His throws are off and high. He might have a shoulder problem. They need to dial him back and get back to the quick passing game. Let Ben be game manager and run the delay with Bell and please run playaction.

  • RickM

    I defend Ben when appropriate, and I do feel the secondary WR’s are hurting him a fair amount. But yes, I think it’s safe to say there has been some decline in performance and his ability to absorb hits. Then again, his regular season QB rating of 95.4 is pretty standard for him. He’s only topped 100 three times in 13 years. I think the expectations for Ben are always a little too high. Like every other QB in the NFL, he is not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers and he never will be.

  • k33ger

    I think his WR core has made life difficult for him. Timing, bad routes, not adjusting the way he expects, etc. it makes him less likely to throw the ball on a timing pattern, as he isn’t sure the WR will go the correct way, and that leads to longer release times, smaller windows, etc.

    Someone mentioned Ben likes “college open” receivers during the slump. I think that’s a side effect of not trusting his receivers.

    We have DHB back, but he wasn’t utilized last night. So you have Brown (great WR/chemistry), Rogers (still not quite there, 1st year playing with Ben), Cobi Hamilton (practice squad! orookie!) and what, jesse james and Bell?

    That’s a rough stable!

  • Jeff Papiernik


  • Nolrog

    I think we’re going to see a lot more of that (giving the ball to Bell) next week in New England.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah I’d be ok with it this year. If Debo comes back, they are likely looking for zero first year starters out of the draft. They’ll need depth and future guys for sure, but not like the last few years.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Thank you for the clarification. I stand corrected on this one in regards to absolving Ben.

  • Nolrog

    I disagree. Ben still has a few years left. You don’t waste those years by spending a pick on a guy that will sit the bench for most of his rookie contract. You add guys who will help you win now.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Only no if they can obtain a vet Charlie Batch like back up.

  • falconsaftey43

    He’s always liked his guys wide open. The biggest thing I’ve seen change with Ben is when he threw a ball before, it went where he wanted it to like 98% of the time. More and more I see Ben missing his intended mark.

  • Mitch

    I really don’t want to, but I’m beginning to agree. It’s one thing that he’s not the catalyst leading them on this nine game win streak. If he was simply playing mistake free football while letting Bell and the defense control the game. That would be fine. But it hasn’t seemed like the case, seems like he’s making a lot of mistakes and missing a lot of passes that the team has to compensate for. All the credit in the world for him on perfectly executing plays like the 3rd down conversion to clinch yesterday’s game, but plays like the one Alex is highlighting in this article have become all too common, and it’s a good thing the defense forced a quick three and out to recover. Throughout Roethlisberger’s career, he’d occasionally get in a slump for a game or two. But this is the longest that I can remember.

  • RickM

    Agree he needs a second target. Bell has been phenomenal on the ground, but it’s almost like he’s disappered from our passing game with only 18 yards in the last three games. And he’s such a good and dangerous reciever. Maybe the D’s are just blanketing Brown and Bell, knowing the other WR’s won’t get open much.

  • capehouse

    Ben checked out of a run on that 2nd down on the 1st drive. I hated the empty set on 3rd down though and that’s definitely Haley. At the 5 yard line in 3rd and goal why would you tell the defense that you’re definitely going to pass. Just don’t get it.

  • StillersInThe6

    Those back-shoulder throws, the WRs are never ‘remotely open’. They get their separation after the throw/stopping their momentum early.

  • RickM

    AV did look back outside after going inside to double-team with Foster, so I guess it’s possible. Either way Ben has to be smarter with the call, and then throwing with Zombo in the pass lane.

  • WilliamSekinger

    Ben had his warts in this game and others during the season, but he also had 1 TD dropped, and 1 TD ripped out of ABs hands. If those TDs are caught/not ripped out we are praising Ben this morning and talking about how this offense is the best the Steelers have had all time.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    The Steelers don’t typically dip their foot in free agency often, but backup QB might be in play for them. I’d love to pick up Brian Hoyer for 2-3 years

  • Gautama Om

    I’ve always told you guys Ben is not that “great”. He can be very good (especially vs poor defenses) but the guy likes to 1) force throws when there’s coverage or 2) he can’t see his 2nd or 3rd options at all or quickly enough. He needs to revert back to his old 2005 game manager mode to some extend so he doesn’t do some force-throw interceptions.

    It’s the playoffs and teams there usually dont have poor defense and you can’t have that gunslinger urge that he always have.

  • PaeperCup

    yeah, I believe this is the play design.

  • PaeperCup

    Not the best decision, not even the right decision, but I can see why he thought it might work. It was a good play by both defenders too.

  • John Mazza

    they had some screens that were sniffed out by the defense and ben just went to other options last night. they are trying not to get Bell in the open field for sure

  • RickM

    You’re probably right on the 2nd down, although he still had Bell back there for a possible run. I kind of look at this and feel as an OC, you have to make it clear sometimes that there is no option. You’re 2nd and 2 and you have the best RB in the league. I tell my QB, you call a run nothing else. K.C.’s D didn’t even change their alignment when Ben dropped back beside Bell. If you can’t protect Ben from himself through your voice communication, call a TO.

  • AMAZed61

    Something definitely seemed “weird” with Ben last night. I am wondering if his shoulder may be a bit more injured from the Wake hit last week than he is letting on. NBC cameras caught a shot of him wincing after one of his first throws last night. Either Collinsworth or Michaels said it looked like he was wincing in pain after he made the throw. His mind may have been telling him to make throws he could not execute to perfection like the throw to AB that got tipped and intercepted in the end zone. Hopefully he will be stronger in 6 days so he can execute closer to 100%.

  • steelmann58

    Running the ball their would have gotten them 7

  • Mister Wirez

    A little play action from time to time to throw opposing Defenses off, even just a little may help.

  • Xclewsive

    I just believe Ben has the freedom and liberties to change or call plays with in the confines of the offense. I know you can’t really read into players media speak, buts it’s always asserted that Ben makes the calls. I believe the personnel is sent in and Ben then makes the calls based on the defense on the field.

  • Kathy Grandt

    We STILL won, so KC fans? SUCK IT UP!!

  • thehugster

    Also, more of Ben under center when they’re running the ball successfully. I hate when they go shotgun or empty backfield, eliminating the run threat even on obvious running situations in the defense’s minds even before the play starts. That’s on Haley.

  • RickM

    I think he has the authority to change plays, but there has to be a recognition by Ben and everyone that it’s far different to change 1st down or 2nd and short plays in the redzone – especially with Bell standing behind you. Personally, I think they need to tell Ben to stop playing gunslinger as much as we near the goaline. We have a great O-line and the best RB in the game. Don’t audible out of run plays unless absolutely necessary.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Exactaly what i thought and i saw it live. 100% Ben´s fault.

  • Lizard72

    Damn! Ben turns and hands that off to Bell he bounces that right side for the TD! He’s looking right at the goaline that direction!

  • Brendon Glad

    I screamed at Ben from my 6th row seats as he walked towards me to the bench…and he DID hear it…and he DID deserve it…
    For the record, I said, “What are you doing, Ben? “Expletive”…Give the ball to L.B. 4 times from there!” I think Steelers Nation probably appreciated that.
    And I’m a guy who has Never been a Ben Hater. I have been saying Ben would be a HOF’er for 10 years. But he isn’t above criticism. And that audible was infuriating.

    For the life of me, I do not understand how a RB who has one of the lowest negative-play rates in the history of the NFL…does not get forced down the opposing teams’ throats down there in goal-to-go situations.

    Including on when the Steelers decided they were not kicking PAT’s for awhile there. It would make SENSE…if every play involved LB taking a handoff one way or another. But since it rarely did/doesn’t, then it didn’t/doesn’t.

    And that ONLY applies to L Bell. I hated the fact that the Steelers always ran on first and goal under Whis and Arians. But those guys weren’t Bell. with Bell, the defense needs to be pounded into discouragement. “bludgeoning mentality”. Don’t get cute, Ben!

  • pittsburghjoe


  • srdan

    Those throws work when both players are running full speed. Why would the defender run full speed in the end zone? And they work when your receiver is Mike Evans who outleaps people. If that was the call, they need better RPOs.

    Name another touchdown that AB scored like that from the 3 yard line.

    I get what you’re saying, and the only answer can be a back shoulder throw, but that’s a bad call there. And worse execution.

  • StillersInThe6

    dude I’ve seen Ben and AB hook up on that exact play multiple times. there’s no leaping ability needed, it’s simply thrown behind AB, he stops on a dime and catches it away from his body and defender. it obviously doesn’t work 100% of the time, and here Ben did not account for the lineman’s reach, otherwise it was likely a TD.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Yeah, I think Father Time has been creeping up on him but I got roasted in another thread for calling his performance into question. And no, I’d rather not see dirty Laundry out there. Ben will be 35 in two months. I think his arm is as good as ever but his accuracy seems hit or miss ie high or low throws. His mobility and willingness to take punishment are down from the days of Ngata smearing his nose across his face. When was the last time he had a qb rating of 100? or 90?. If he gets another ring this year could he decide to retire?.

  • Steve Volk

    Big Ben played well, “above the line” or in terms of letter grades, a B. This “hot read” was a mistake, and seemed just like Ben, the gunslinger, to audible out of a run even when the team was dominating on the ground. But I can live with it. His comeback against Baltimore was so magisterial that I think it becomes easy, too easy, to take him for granted, to expect that he is going to go out there and do a dozen impossible things every week but that just isn’t how it goes. Brown and Rogers both had TDs in their hands, which for whatever reason they did not pull down. Ben even took a massive hit late in the game that bent him backward at the knee but shook it off and continued playing with no ill effects, so it’s even harder for me to see where he isn’t taking hits so well. He opened up against Miami by going 12 for 12. Like, what are we talking about here?

  • CP72

    Ben has stated that if he’s got AB one on one he’s throwing it there. I’m not saying I disagree with your statement, but Ben has unshakable faith in Brown.

  • CP72

    Let’s give a little bit of a pass to Ben. No Martavis, no Wheaton, Green and Coates have missed significant time. That’s 4 of what was to be his biggest weapons.

    Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers, DeMarcus Ayers are all nice players, but they don’t strike fear into the hearts of defenses. Teams double and triple AB. After that Ben has no real playmakers when Green isn’t out there.

  • Jaybird

    Don’t forget he has basically lost Bryant , Wheaton , Coates for most of the year, DHB for a good part of the year, and his TE Greene for almost all year. I don’t think he’s played as well as he has in the past, but remember this – he’s throwing to TWO guys that were on the practice squad earlier this year! And I thought he was losing arm strength , but last night he threw an absolute laser that AB couldn’t come down for the TD. I think AB makes that catch 9 times out of 10. But man that ball was was a rocket.

  • CP72

    Lol did you copy off my homework Jaybird….we wrote almost the same exact thing.

  • There was no way that was going to be successful. Come on Ben, just hand the damn ball off

  • Jaybird

    I’m sorry if I did. I just got home from work , took a nap (damn night games) and that’s the first thing I read . I didn’t even see your post . Sorry if I plagerized.

  • justafanlikeyou

    I thought it was fairly obvious just by the blocking when the play was run that Ben had gone on his own. I watched Villie and knew it was a called run. Seeing the replay you don’t need to look any further than the WRs on the right side of the formation, who all run block.
    I remember right before the ball was snapped yelling at the TV to snap the ball. As I recall Hamilton was not set before the snap.

  • Ijustdontknowanymore

    The Killer B’s won the game. Bell, Brown and Boswell. Ben and his 72% QBR, not so much.

  • CP72

    No its all good man. Just thought it was hilarious we basically typed up the same thing. I also got a nap in today. Feel asleep at 12:30 am last night…up at 5:30 am.

  • EdJHJr

    How many times have I watched him try and force the ball to AB. It’s like he has to or else

  • Jaybird

    yeah I was half dead today – 3hrs of sleep. It’s sort of a curse being a Steelers fan – they are so popular and draw big ratings , we always get lots of Prime time games. I know this one was only due to the weather, but it reminded me that I hate primtime games. Gimme a one o’clock start and a good nights rest any day!

  • Lizard72

    Nope the safety wasn’t where he thought either. That was a bad check play.

  • RickM

    I’m a Ben fan, but I think he made some definite mistakes twice checking off runs at the 5 yard line, once on first down and once on 2nd and 2. He can’t be doing at the 5 yard line that with our O-line and Le’Veon Bell. He gave away as many as 11 points, i.e. we got 3 points total and may have gotten 14 if we stuck with the logical, called runs. Freelancing is only fine at the right time, and neither of those situations was the right time. 2nd and 2 at the 5 and he doesn’t allow Bell as many as three attempts to get two yards? That’s really poor judgement, and again I normally defend him.

  • prnitz

    Ben is in a slump at the worst possible time. Of the QBs who played last weekend only Osweiler was worse. In the last few games he’s thrown more interceptions than Brady throws in a few years. We need more consistency out of him at this point in his career. Hes not playing like a top five QB in the league and we need him to be with Brady and likely Rogers ahead. Man, I hope he can pull it together. At his age this may be the last time in his career he has this opportunity. Maybe Richard Sherman will call and tell him that on first down from the 5-yard line we don’t need him to be passing the ball

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I hate to say this, but this is the first time I’ve lost a chunk of confidence in Ben. He’s not playing sharp right now, making poor decisions at the wrong time.

    Also, the lack of any deep threat has caused defenses to be able to crawl up closer to the line making every throw more crowded.

    Gotta take a couple of deep shots to Coates or DHB this week.

  • rdjmsr53

    I agree, he seems to have a real good stretch around the middle of the season, then is slowly deteriorates. But what I always look at is his eyes, and they don’t show the look of a confident quarterback.
    I’m thinking New England will take away Bell and force Ben to beat them. So we shall see.

  • Stevie D

    Ben needs not looking for AB so much. Ben play has been average at best since the game against Buffalo. If the Steelers going beat the Patriots need big game from Ben.