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Coach Killers, Week 3: Big Ben is killing the Steelers

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB - Steelers

In what has become a weekly feature, the Steelers' offense again finds itself in this space, and this time it's not the offensive line or the receivers, but the franchise quarterback. The knee-jerk reactionaries will blame offensive coordinator Todd Haley. And revisionist historians will point to those halcyon days when Haley's predecessor Bruce Arians had Ben Roethlisberger maximizing his talents in an explosive downfield passing offense.

Of course, these folks conveniently leave out the part where Arians' offense routinely set Roethlisberger up to take a beating, or that Haley had a lot of success to begin the 2012 season. (We won't rehash it here -- again -- but feel free to read through the Coach Killers from two weeks ago)

And for critics who say Haley and Big Ben are a square peg in a round hole, how do you explain the sudden and successful turnaround Jay Cutler is currently experiencing. Coach Marc Trestman comes in, convinces Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly, taking short gains to later set up longer ones, and not only is Cutler taking fewer hits than at any time in his career (he's been sacked three times through three games), Chicago is 3-0.

Look, we don't relish the idea of being Haley's biggest supporter, and he has his moments that make us question why he has job. (His insistence on running the ball on 2nd-and-10 is a prime example. It would be one thing if the Steelers had Adrian Peterson. They don't even have Adrien Brody in the backfield. Running the ball on any down and distance is equivalent to yelling "We're giving up on this series!")

But the reason the Steelers got blown out of the building Sunday night against the Bears comes down to one man: Big Ben, who played his worst game of the season.

You wouldn't know it to look at the box score -- Roethlisberger finished 26 of 41 for 406 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But he also had two fumbles. All told, three of the turnovers accounted for 17 Chicago points. The Bears won 40-23.

Roethlisberger fumbled on the Steelers' third play of the game, which led to a Bears' field goal. Three drives later, and facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 29, Big Ben dropped back in a well-formed pocket and, facing little pressure, threw an off-balance pass that missed intended receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Bears safety Major Wright, staring down the Steelers quarterback as the play unfolded, intercepted the throw and scampered untouched for a 38-yard touchdown. Chicago 24, Pittsburgh 3, with nine minutes left in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger stares down Cotchery before throwing an ill-advised pass off his back foot. (USATSI)

"Obviously, you're not going to win football games when you're turning the ball over in the manner in which we did," coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "It produced direct points. It produced other point opportunities. You're not going to beat anybody in the NFL playing like that. We've got to get better. We know it. We understand it. It doesn't make it any less painful but that's just the reality of where we are. …

"We've got to take better care of the football," he continued. "…Outcomes of games are simple in the NFL. It's black and white. You've got to ring the scoreboard up, you've got to maintain possession of the ball and you've got to stop people. Obviously, we're not putting together enough of a combination of those things to be victorious at this point."

And on Sunday night, Roethlisberger was the big reason why.

The good news: He's the least of this team's worries. Big Ben has had bad games before, and he almost always bounces back with a solid performance. That won't magically fix a season that's teetering on disaster; the offense line is still a train wreck, the running game is a joke, and the defense can't be expected to play 40 minutes a game and hold opponents to 10 points.

We'll have to see if running back Le'Veon Bell (the rookie is set to make his debut Sunday) and tight end Heath Miller (who is easing his way back into the lineup) make this offense something other than predictably awful.

Will Beatty, LT - Giants

The Giants might be a lot of things but they're not quitters. Based on their performance Sunday, a 38-0 shellacking at the hands of the Panthers, this team won't let the Jaguars run away with "Worst team in the NFL" honors without a fight. So there's that.

Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked six -- SIX! -- times in the first 16:20 of the game. And while Manning has played poorly this season (he leads the league with eight interceptions), at no point Sunday did he have a chance against Carolina's front four.

We say front four because, really, that's all the Panthers had to send. Left tackle Will Beatty spent the afternoon getting abused by Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, and the Giants were powerless to do anything about it.

Facing a 3rd-and-5 on the Giants' first drive, the Panthers rush four and Hardy easily beat Beatty around the outside for a sack.

The Giants went into this game thinking Beatty could handle Hardy one-on-one. A slight miscalculation on their part. (FOX)

With 9:15 to go in the first quarter, the Giants decide to give Beatty some help. Running back Da'Rel Scott lined up in the backfield ... except Hardy beat Beatty to the inside. Another Manning sack.

The one thing Beatty can't do here: get beat inside. Guess what happened? (USATSI)

The Giants also tried to have Scott come across the formation to help Beatty. This time, Scott overcommitted to the outside, and Hardy beat Scott and Beatty inside for another Manning sack. It came a play after Beatty was called for holding, which negated a 17-yard David Wilson touchdown run.

The Giants couldn't even properly double-team Hardy. (USATSI)

By halftime, the Giants trailed 17-0 and had mustered one passing yard.

“These are games that you never want to think about, you never want to dream of or say that your team is going to have a game like this,” Beatty said, via the New York Times. “That first sack took up way too much of my thought, took up way too much of my time," he continued. "I should have let it go a lot earlier, and it was almost looking back on it, I see myself now, it was a snowball effect.”

Coach Tom Coughlin added: “We never really gave ourselves a chance to try to go after their chopped-up secondary because they did an outstanding job up front. And the majority of the time you're talking about a four-man rush, not anything other than that. I think we had seven sacks. I bet the quarterback got hit 20 times today. We lost the physical battle there.”

That's one way of putting it, yes.

Colin Kaepernick, QB - 49ers

Kaepernick doesn't look like the same player who helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl last season. (USATSI)

This could just as easily be about the entire team -- the defense has struggled and now they will be without Aldon Smith for some time -- but third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been especially ineffective.

It's one thing to blame a blowout loss on having to play in Seattle, but to get outclassed at home is another matter, particularly when the Colts' defense isn't that good (heading into Week 3, they ranked 24th overall, 14th against the pass and 30th against the run, according to Football Outsiders).

One issue: Kaepernick is completing 47.2 percent of his passes the last two weeks. Another issue: He has six turnovers over that span.

There's more bad news: After finding Anquan Boldin 13 times for 208 yards in the Week 1 win over the Packers, Kap has completed just 13 passes to the entire team in the last two games. Some of that is because defenses have game-planned to stop Boldin. Some of that is because Michael Crabtree is out until at least November with an Achilles injury, and some of that is because Vernon Davis missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.

This is long-winded way of saying: The available 49ers' receivers can't get open.

Here's what ProFootballFocus.com's Ben Stockwell wrote in the Colts-49ers recap:

"Kaepernick's only completion on a pass targeted 10-plus yards downfield came to Garrett Celek late in the fourth quarter with the game already [decided], and his receivers couldn't break a short pass into a longer gain to spark the offense. With the 49ers erring away from the ground game, they looked short of the big play that might have thrust them back into the matchup."

There's more, via ESPN.com: "Kaepernick was 1-for-6 on passes that traveled more than 10 yards down field [vs. the Colts]. Last season, Kaepernick completed 55.6 percent of such throws. It was the fifth best in the NFL. This year, he is completing just 37.8 percent."

Put another way: Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore, Vance McDonald and Celek aren't suitable substitutes for Boldin, Davis and Crabtree. And with Kaepnerick, who has just 10 regular-season starts in his career, struggling to read complex NFL defenses, this may not be an easy fix.

But coach Jim Harbaugh says this isn't just about Kaenpernick.

“I'm not going to put it on one spot,” he said. “Precision offensively needs to improve. We'll all have a hand in working on improving that.”

Except that Kap has been as imprecise as anybody on the roster.

 
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