Big Ben Now Must Be Perfect

Mike Prisuta explains why Ben Roethlisberger no longer has a margin for error.

CINCINNATI -- Mike Tomlin understood what his team had been up against, again.

"Our margin for error was minimal," Tomlin assessed after the Steelers' second alarmingly-incapable performance in two tries in 2013.

At this point that sounds like an appropriate title for the highlight film.

"The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers: Our Margin for Error was Minimal."

Worse yet, the quarterback hasn't been immune to the parameters that suddenly govern the rest of these reeling Steelers.

"The quarterback's gotta play better," the quarterback acknowledged after Monday night's 20-10 setback at Paul Brown Stadium.

But can he be perfect?

And can the Steelers win a game with Ben Roethlisberger at a level that doesn't approach perfection or at the very least include several improvised contributions toward that end?

He had been playing some of the best football of his career prior to getting injured and missing three games last November. Since returning, Roethlisberger has been less than magical and the Steelers have gone 1-5.

That trend continued against the Bengals.

Getting the ball down the field, once a Roethlisberger staple, proved agonizingly difficult to accomplish, as it had against Tennessee.

Not counting the 1-yard touchdown to Derek Moye, wide receivers were targeted 28 times against the Bengals and came up with 14 receptions.

That's not good enough, not even close.

And there weren't a lot of near-misses.

"My knee-jerk reaction is giving (the Bengals) credit for making it difficult for us," Roethlisberger said. "I know there were a couple of times receivers said they couldn't see the ball in the air with the lights. Those are just kind of fluky things you can't have happen."

The upcoming Bears game is at night, which doesn't bode well. And the one after that against the Vikings is at night in London.

Maybe the wide receivers will be able to track the ball starting at 1 p.m. on Oct. 13 against the Jets. But even if that's the case, Roethlisberger will have to be more on the mark than he was against the Bengals.

He was off just enough to seal the Steelers' fate on third-and-2 from the Cincinnati 27-yard line with 5:02 remaining, launching a ball that was high and behind Jerricho Cotchery and was ultimately tipped by Cotchery and eventually intercepted.

Ballgame.

"Just gotta make better throws, put it on guys," Roethlisberger said. "The last one to Jerricho, it's high. I know he comes to me and says he needs to make that play but I tell him I need to put it on him more. Nine out of 10 times I know I can make that throw. It just kinda got away from me a little bit. That was a killer."

For Roethlisberger, nine out of 10 is apparently no longer enough.

And here's the scary part:

If his ability to mask all that ails the Steelers' offense by being Big Ben when necessary has slipped even a little bit, this could get really ugly.

That standard has been the standard for so long it's almost been taken for granted. What if it's no longer attainable given the margin for error that's suddenly become too minimal to manage?


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