The “new” Ben Roethlisberger — quick passes, and the shorter the better — helped stake the Steelers to an 11-0 start. It hasn’t survived scrutiny as the schedule has stiffened. Roethlisberger has been awful over the past three weeks, including a narrow victory over the corona-staggered Ravens and dispiriting losses to Washington and Buffalo.
The Football Team setback was the eye opener. Roethlisberger looked little different than his checkdown-famous counterpart Alex Smith, with both signal callers rarely venturing beyond the cocoon of the short areas of the field. Even going back to a Week 11 win over Jacksonville, Roethlisberger’s production has been in full-on collapse. These are his numbers over the past month: 7:5 TD:INT ratio. 5.48 YPA. 80.6 QB rating.
For the season, Roethlisberger’s “average intended air yards” are 7.0, better than only five current starters. That is down from 7.7 in Roethlisberger’s last full season of 2018, and 9.2 in 2017. Per Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger is attempting deep balls at the league’s 16th highest rate and generating a 72.3 QB rating on attempts of 20-plus yards. This approach has rendered Diontae Johnson a short-area compiler while neutering Chase Claypool’s big-play ability. It has JuJu Smith-Schuster being accurately compared to a “second tight end” by NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, one who averages 8.3 yards per catch.
None of this is making life easier on a vanishing rushing attack. Regardless of whether James Conner or Benny Snell is taking the lead, the Steelers are averaging 61 yards per game and 3.10 yards per carry since Week 11. This is a broken offense, one placing increasing strain on a foundering defense.
Roethlisberger has a Week 15 get-right spot in the Bengals before daunting playoff-seeding extravaganzas in the Colts and Browns. It’s too late for the Steelers to unveil a new “new Ben.” That means fantasy managers will have a low-end, low-ceiling QB1 for Week 15 and an unusable option for finals week. If you roster Diontae, pray it’s in a PPR league. Despite looking like the closest thing we’ve seen to Calvin Johnson since Megatron’s retirement, Claypool has become unusable. 2020.
Five Week 14 Storylines
Jalen Hurts gives Eagles no reason to go back to Carson Wentz. I wrote last week that Hurts didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, he just needed to stop it from rolling further backward. It was mission accomplished in a stunning victory over the Saints, with Hurts hitting layups in the passing game while opening up the rushing attack. Entering Week 14, the Saints had gone 55 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Sunday, they surrendered two, with Hurts reaching the century mark in his first start and Miles Sanders joining him. Sanders’ 82-yard touchdown in the second quarter highlighted the biggest change Hurts brings to the Eagles’ offense. The rookie sucked the defense in on a read option, freeing Sanders and doing something Wentz was no longer capable of: Keeping the other team guessing. These sorts of attacks are often figured out quickly, but the Eagles just need it to work three more times before they reassess for 2021. Hurts has immediately established a top-18 floor and top-12 upside for Week 15 against the Cardinals.
Jalen Hurts revives Miles Sanders’ RB1/2 viability. So yes, there was Sanders, a big-play threat ripping off the biggest play of his career against a run defense that entered the week permitting the fewest running back fantasy points. Sanders’ 18 touches were a four-week high. Most importantly, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard combined for only four handles, signaling the end of the Eagles’ recent committee. Of course, you could argue that Hurts is a bigger threat to Sanders’ workload and upside than Scott/Howard/Corey Clement ever were, but that discounts the way the Eagles’ offense will do business with Hurts. Fewer passes and a lot more runs. A backfield big enough for the two of them, one where the quarterback takes pressure off his running back instead of adding it. Just as quickly as we were out, we are back in on Sanders as a top-16 back.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard split touches vs. Bengals. Elliott handled the ball just one more time than his “backup,” 14-13. It was a 30-7 victory, but it wasn’t about the score. Nine of Pollard's touches came in the first three quarters where the lead never grew beyond two touchdowns. Elliott did outgain Pollard 59-48. That doesn’t tell the story of the eye test, which has revealed Pollard to be the more explosive option for the majority of 2020. The drain-circled Cowboys have little reason to abandon their committee for the final three weeks. They will want to keep tread on Elliott’s tires while getting a longer look at Pollard. The 49ers are a tougher matchup for Week 15, one where neither back can be trusted as a top-20 option.
Alex Smith tweaks calf vs. 49ers. The Football Team is claiming it’s not a serious issue after Smith could make it just 19 attempts into Washington’s latest eye-bleeding victory. We would normally express skepticism of such a claim, but it’s believable since Smith’s injury was to the leg he endured 17 surgeries on. It sounds as if Smith will be back for Week 15 against the Seahawks. That’s good for Washington and mixed for fantasy managers, as Smith has accomplished the rather difficult task of making Terry McLaurin irrelevant over the past two weeks. One month ago, the Seahawks might have been a Smith-proof matchup. They have since made major strides against the pass. It has come versus an easy schedule, but Smith doesn’t exactly fall into the “difficult” category. Even in two-quarterback leagues and superflexes, Smith offers little upside for the fantasy semifinals. The same would be true of a spot-starting Dwayne Haskins.
Playing through bruised foot, Deebo Samuel pops hamstring. Samuel went down on the first play of the game. Although it was the first play, it was his second hamstring issue of 2020, one coach Kyle Shanahan said “didn’t look good.” If Samuel is done for the season, it was a campaign that provided more questions than answers. Samuel is supposed to be a rugged after-the-catch threat. That doesn’t jibe with a player who keeps suffering lower-body injuries. Through two years, Samuel has already missed seven games. Percy Harvin showed the toll this kind of role can take on a player. Hopefully Samuel doesn’t break down before he even begins. With Brandon Aiyuk showing out more each week, Samuel is no longer the top Dynasty hold in the Niners’ receiver corps.
Five More Week 14 Storylines
Matthew Stafford departs with fourth quarter rib issue. Stafford checked out with 6:30 remaining, a troubling sign. “Injury prone” in the earliest days of career, Stafford went nearly a decade without missing a start until last year’s broken back. He’s yet to sit a Sunday this season, though he has battled through neck and thumb issues. The fact that he couldn’t play through his rib ailment is the sign of an injury that might keep one of the toughest players in the league out for Week 15. If that’s the case, it will be for an A+ matchup in the Titans. Were Stafford to be dealing with a Drew Brees-type situation, The Athletic’s Chris Burke speculates it’s possible he’s played his final Lions snap. There are universes where Chase Daniel is a competent spot starter for the fantasy semifinals, but not ones where Kenny Golladay (hip) is sitting. Stafford’s absence would all but guarantee Golladay doesn’t play through what has ailed him for much longer than expected.
Bengals bench Giovani Bernard in blowout loss. Bernard’s first quarter fumble was his first in 829 carries. Already looking for reasons to move on, that was all coach Zac Taylor needed to see in the Bengals’ latest non-competitive game. Bernard was mothballed for most of the rest of the afternoon, with 2019 sixth-rounder Trayveon Williams and Samaje Perine distancing themselves in both snaps and touches. It was an overdue cameo for Williams and surprising revival for Perine, as Taylor had seemed to have moved on from the journeyman. Williams entered the proceedings with just seven career touches. Like Bernard, he immediately lost a fumble, and this one was returned for six. Taylor nevertheless stayed with the sophomore as he turned 12 ordinary carries into 49 yards while adding 3/14 as a receiver. That’s not a terrible rushing line, but it came against one of the league’s worst run defenses. With the smarting Steelers on deck, Williams won’t be much of a Week 15 fantasy option.
DeVante Parker injures leg and Lynn Bowden takes over. Seemingly playing injured all season, Parker made it only 29 catchless minutes against the Chiefs before heading to the locker room and failing to re-appear. He joined Preston Williams, Mike Gesicki and Jakeem Grant on the shelf, leaving Tua Tagovailoa with precious few targets during a shootout. Enter trade acquisition/’offensive weapon” Bowden, who more than doubled his previous career receptions total with his 7/82 line. The slasher now has 11 catches over his past two games, and is raising questions about why the Raiders gave up on him so quickly. Making hay from the slot, Bowden should be PPR viable for Week 15 against the Patriots.
Mike Gesicki suffers potentially serious shoulder injury. Finally on a hot streak after months of zero-floor performances, Gesicki’s right arm was dangling at his side as he headed to the locker room. His loss for any amount of time would be devastating for an extremely short-handed offense. Gesicki has four scores over the past three weeks, serving as Tua Tagovailoa’s primary red zone threat. It would also further thin a ludicrously shallow fantasy position for the two most important weeks of the year. If Gesicki misses Week 15 against the Patriots, as seems likely, there is no plug-and-play fantasy tight end option on the Dolphins’ roster.
Tua Tagovailoa shows progress in loss to Chiefs. Twitter perception has been particularly divorced from on-field reality with Tagovailoa. Sure, he has not been the easiest on the eyes, but he’s a man making his first career starts with one of the league’s thinnest supporting casts. That was only exacerbated on Sunday by the further losses of Parker, Gesicki and Jakeem Grant. Tagovailoa still managed 316 yards and two scores, bringing the Dolphins within six points of the mighty Chiefs with 4:15 remaining. Tagovailoa is a player acknowledging his rookie limits while hinting at a brighter future, all while mostly avoiding the turnovers that plague rookie signal callers. The Patriots are a Week 15 matchup that could go either way, with enough downside that Tagovailoa should be avoided outside of two-QB and superflex leagues.
1. Was the Mike Glennon era the most transparent tank job in NFL history?
2. What has the Washington Football Team done to our precious Terry McLaurin?
3. Who gets extended first, Mitchell Trubisky or Matt Nagy?
Early Waiver Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
QB: Derek Carr (vs. LAC), Tua Tagovailoa (vs. NE), Mitchell Trubisky (@MIN), Jalen Hurts (@AZ), Teddy Bridgewater (@GB), Andy Dalton (vs. SF), Nick Mullens (@DAL)
RB: Trayveon Williams, Lynn Bowden, Jeff Wilson, Phillip Lindsay, Peyton Barber, Ito Smith, DeAndre Washington, Carlos Hyde
WR: Lynn Bowden, Keke Coutee, Nelson Agholor, Sterling Shepard, Tim Patrick, Jalen Reagor, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Gabriel Davis, Chad Hansen
TE: Dalton Schultz, Cole Kmet, Jordan Akins, Jordan Reed, Geoff Swaim
DEF: Cowboys (vs. SF), Titans (vs. DET), Vikings (vs. CHI), Giants (vs. CLE)
Stats of the Week
Derrick Henry is already at 1,532 yards rushing. He needs to average 156 yards over the Titans’ final three contests to post the eighth 2,000-yard campaign in NFL history. He gets the Lions, Packers and Texans, the three defenses that happen to be allowing the most running back fantasy points. Buckle up.
Patrick Mahomes’ 30-yard sack was the “most yardage lost on an offensive play without a fumble or an intentional safety” in Pro Football Reference’s database. It might be time for the Chiefs to think about a change under center.
Tweet of the Week, from Rohan Nadkarni: Roethlisberger looks and plays like he just ate a full thanksgiving dinner but all the kids begged him to come outside and throw them some passes.
Tweet of the Week III, from Le’Veon Bell: lol I’m so confused yo
The That’s Not How To Get Your Dad Mike Zimmer To Love You Award: Dan Bailey missing kicks No. 1,000 and 1,001 this season.
Chargers Moment of the Week: Running the ball on 3rd-and-1 from the eight-yard line with 22 seconds and no timeouts left at the end of the first half, failing to get the first down and failing to attempt a field goal. Really, you have to see it to believe it.