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Ben Roethlisberger seeks better rhythm from Pittsburgh Steelers' offense

By
The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass in last week's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass in last week's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is among the top 10 quarterbacks all-time in touchdown passes and passing yards. He has thrown for 47,771 yards and 307 touchdowns in his career.

So when an all-time great gets off to a slow start, it's news.

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Roethlisberger isn't near the NFL's leading passers through four games. He's 21st in the league in completion percentage, 14th in passer rating and 13th in passing yards. Roethlisberger also has thrown for only six touchdowns in the early going. A year ago, he had 11 touchdown passes through four games.

Roethlisberger has admitted repeatedly that he's not playing well and must do better. Just don't count him among those who are overly concerned about the slow start.

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"Winning has always been my No. 1 priority," Roethlisberger said Wednesday before practice. "I said that from the first day I walked in front of you guys. That's always No. 1 for me. As a younger guy, you worry if your stats are helping you win or lose.

"Everyone in this business wants to put up good numbers. But as you get older you appreciate how you can win football games without just putting up good numbers."

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Roethlisberger has done that this season. The Steelers are 3-1 and atop the AFC North after their 26-9 victory in Baltimore.

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The Steelers will try to improve to 4-1 at home this week against Jacksonville (2-2).

There are reasons for Roethlisberger's slow start. Running back Le'Veon Bell missed all of training camp. Martavis Bryant missed the entire 2016 season. And rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is trying to carve out his role.

Nonetheless, Roethlisberger believes he is close to finding a rhythm with the offense.

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"I'd like to think so," he said. "Rhythm is within yourself and it's also within the context of an offense and other guys. There are 10 other guys on the field you have to be in a rhythm with. If we can just win football games now, then you play your best football later in the season."

It could be tough sledding against the Jaguars defense in the passing game. They are the top-rated pass defense in the NFL, which is aided by the front seven having the most sacks in the league with 18.

"They pay a lot of money to their secondary," Roethlisberger said. "They lock people down. We're not sure what we're going to do. It's that good of a defense. Luckily, we're not playing today or tomorrow. We have some time to get in the film room and try to figure some things out. This will be a very good test for us."

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SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Series tied, 11-11. Steelers have won the past three meetings and six of the 10 games in Pittsburgh, but the Jaguars have won three in a row at Heinz Field, including the only playoff game ever between the two teams. The Jaguars beat the Steelers, 31-29, in a 2008 AFC wild-card game after Mike Tomlin's first season as head coach.

--Head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came down hard on All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown early in the week after Brown threw a sideline temper tantrum in Baltimore when Roethlisberger failed to target him on a play.

Brown tossed a Gatorade cooler and had words with offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

"A.B. is a competitor," Tomlin said. "We all understand that. It aids him, it aids us, but we've got to control it. He has to control it. If he does not, it could work against him, it could work against us. Those are just the lessons you learn along the way. Sunday was a big game obviously for a lot of reasons. Emotions are capable of getting away from you. It doesn't need to happen. It shouldn't happen. Hopefully, it won't moving forward. Hopefully, he's learned a lesson through that, and hopefully, others have learned a lesson through that.

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"I think that's one of the things that you've really got to focus on when you talk about something like that. We have young people on our team. They need to be taught good things, good lessons, ways to conduct themselves as professionals. We all make mistakes. He made a mistake. I'm sure he's ready to move on from it, but I also think there's a lesson to be learned or a lesson to be taught there. I hope he addresses that element of it as well as he moves forward."

--It's been a tough first month of the season for second-year receiver Eli Rogers. He did not dress against Baltimore and appears to have been passed on the depth chart by rookie second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Rogers, who had 48 receptions for 594 yards and three touchdowns last season, began the season as the starting slot receiver. Through four games he has just six receptions for 54 yards and no touchdowns.

It is looking like he might have also lost his duties as punt returner. The Steelers replaced Rogers with Antonio Brown against the Ravens.

"He put the ball on the ground the other week in the punt-return game," Tomlin said. "That's one of his chief roles. That's one of the chief reasons why he's a participant. I wanted to give him a week off from that and reestablish some good fundamentals in that area, and that provided an opportunity for Justin Hunter."

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Rogers' role this week and future weeks likely will depend on how well he practices. Tomlin said the door is open for him to get out of his doghouse.

"We'll just see how the week goes," Tomlin said. "I'll give him an opportunity. Like I told him a week ago, it's not a firing. It's a re-centering, if you will. He had a good week last week. I'm sure he's excited about getting back out there again. He'll be given an opportunity like everyone else is. The decisions that we made a week ago were for that game, putting us in the very best position to win that game. I'm open to roles changing and evolving as we prepare this week."

NOTES: T Marcus Gilbert, who missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, returned to practice on a full-time basis Wednesday. ... S Mike Mitchell, who missed the Ravens game with a hamstring injury, returned to practice and was a full participant. The Ravens game was the first one he's missed since signing with the Steelers in 2014. ... LB Ryan Shazier was limited Wednesday with a shoulder injury. ... S Sean Davis did not practice because of an ankle injury. Davis missed practice time last week, but he played a full game against the Ravens. ... DE Stephon Tuitt played against the Ravens for the first time since injuring his biceps in the opener at Cleveland. He did not practice Wednesday, but he did not reinjure his biceps.

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