By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
Against the Dolphins, one of the worst possible situations happened that Steelers fans are much too used to: Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury, this time the injury being a torn meniscus. The torn meniscus only required a trimming, which should put Big Ben out for 1-3 weeks. With that being said, the Steelers have a decision to make as to which backup should start in place of their future Hall of Fame quarterback against the Patriots on Sunday and potentially beyond.
Landry Jones or Zach Mettenberger?
For starters, it likely won’t make a difference who starts under center against the Patriots. The Steelers have mounted up a long list of banged up injuries to many key players on both sides of the ball. Unless something happens to Tom Brady, who has been playing out of his mind since coming off of his suspension, neither quarterback will be able to keep up with Brady.
I’m not being pessimistic, but the Steelers have some questions that need to be answered other than just at quarterback. When they are healthy and firing on all cylinders, they are one of the teams to beat in the NFL (assuming that the team they are playing is above .500). Before Roethlisberger’s injury, this game could have gone either way. But now, the Patriots are heavy favorites and rightfully so.
The starter will likely be Jones. When Roethlisberger twice went down with an injury last season, Jones was the guy that stepped in. His claim to fame came when he took down the mighty Cardinals when no one thought he could do it. He also has more years in Todd Haley’s offense. In his career, Jones has put up average numbers, tallying 513 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a passer rating of 76.0. If he ends up as the starter, you can expect much of the same.
It is hard to gauge how much trust the Steelers have in Jones. During the NFL Draft this past spring, rumors began circulating that the Steelers were interested in shopping the 4th-year quarterback to acquire more picks. Mike Tomlin shot this notion down quickly, saying that Jones was not going anywhere. Not many coaches are that quick to jump to defend their backup quarterback that has not shown ample promise as a pro. So how much faith do the Steelers REALLY have in Jones? During the game against the Dolphins, Tomlin put Roethlisberger back into last year’s AFC Wild Card Game to replace Jones with basically with virtually no arm strength due to a shoulder injury. Yes, the game was quickly getting away from the Steelers, but most teams in the NFL would have kept the backup in because he should be able to keep the team afloat. The same thing happened against the Dolphins this past weekend when Tomlin obviously felt more comfortable with his already struggling starter who also happened to tear his meniscus than he did with his completely healthy and able-bodied backup.
If you can get a read on how the Steelers REALLY feel about Landry Jones, then please let me and the rest of Steelers’ Nation know.
Jones’ confidence has been up and down to say the least during his time in the NFL. During the first three seasons of his career, Jones often looked lost and timid in the pocket and not commanding like the way you would want your quarterback to be. Last year in particular, Jones had moments of brilliance where he looked like he could be a legitimate NFL backup and then he had moments where he left fans wondering how he could be in the NFL at all.
While the odds all appear to be in Jones’ favor, that doesn’t mean that the Steelers shouldn’t consider giving Mettenberger a chance to prove his worth. In his 4th NFL season, Jones has likely reached his ceiling and we have all seen the Landry Jones experience and know what he brings.
There isn’t a lot of promise as the future starter after the Roethlisberger-era is over.
Enter Zach Mettenberger.
No, I’m not saying that Mettenberger is the quarterback of the future for the Steelers. In all reality, Mettenberger isn’t a starting quarterback in the NFL. During his time with the Titans, he started 10 games where he put together a record of 0-10. However, this is far from being all of Mettenberger’s fault. While in Tennessee, he played with one of the worst supporting cast’s in the league, which is indicative of the team’s struggles as a whole (the Titans went 5-27 in the two years Mettenberger was with the team). Mettenberger has had successful games in his career, throwing for 299+ yards twice, putting up 2,347 yards passing, 12 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. While those numbers are far from great, we at least have a nice sample size to see what he is capable of doing.
Steelers fans, of all people, should know what Mettenberger is capable of. In 2014 (his rookie season), he nearly beat the Steelers in a game that he threw for 263 yards and had two touchdowns, all while having a 110.2 quarterback rating. Was that another case of the Steelers playing down to their competition? Maybe. But with Mettenberger, the raw skills and attributes are there. Mettenberger checks off the boxes for size (6’5″, 225 pounds) and has the solid arm strength that Todd Haley loves in this offense to air it out deep (take a look at his 80-yard touchdown pass against the Steelers in that 2014 game. You won’t be disappointed, especially considering that the Steelers won the game).
Mettenberger also has the pedigree you want. While at LSU, he posted a 19-6 record in 25 starts while finishing sixth in school history in passing yards (5,783) and completions (407) and fifth in touchdowns (35). The scary part? He was able to do this in only two seasons. Even though he was a 6th-round pick, his pedigree screams “early round prospect”. Mettenberger just couldn’t keep it clean off of the field, namely a misdemeanor arrest for sexual battery. He also had an injury history after suffering a torn ACL in his final college game.
When you watch Mettenberger on tape, specifically from his time with the Titans, you see a quarterback that has the potential to be at least decent, if not better. He gets nice velocity on his passes and does a nice job of getting them there accurately. Coming out of college, his ability to make throws of varying difficulty was well documented and his ability to grow was largely dictated by the system that he was in. His skillset and potential has “Steelers’ offense” written all over it, especially considering that this is singlehandedly the best offense Mettenberger has ever been a part of.
Is Mettenberger perfect? No. One million times no. But quite frankly, neither is Jones. Far from it. The Steelers know what they have with Jones but have yet to give Mettenberger the chance to do much of anything. We have seen enough of Jones to know that life with him and without Roethlisberger isn’t pretty and is mostly unpredictable. Realistically, Jones is a game manager. Almost like a poor-man’s Alex Smith. Scratch that. A broke-man’s Alex Smith.
I am a firm believer that NFL teams make decisions based on what THEY see. As much as we scream at the TV and say that our beloved teams are making the worst decisions, we don’t spend day-in and day-out with these men. Coaches and trainers spend every day analyzing and preparing the players on their roster. The decisions that they make (especially with a franchise as successful as the Steelers) are decisions that the coaching staff believes will put them in the best position to compete and win.
That guy will end up being Landry Jones.
Other than pure experience in the system and an extra year in the league, Jones and Mettenberger are not far apart from each other. The difference between them is that Mettenberger has been a starter in this league. Don’t get me wrong, Mettenberger hasn’t done much in the NFL, but at least he’s been a legitimate starter in this league.
At this point, in a game that likely won’t result in a victory for the Steelers, I think it’s worth seeing what Mettenberger can do. In my honest opinion, Mettenberger is the better quarterback and gives the Steelers a better chance at victory.
In a perfect world, the Steelers would give Zach Mettenberger the start to experiment and see what he can do.
At the end of the day, though, business is business. And Landry Jones will be the starting quarterback. It’s the Steelers’ way.
We can all dream, right?