Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin took any suspense out of who will start at quarterback this week for his Pittsburgh Steelers.
Backup Landry Jones will get the call Sunday when the Steelers (4-2) host the New England Patriots (5-1) at Heinz Field.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday after being injured in Sunday’s 30-15 loss to the Dolphins at Miami.
Because the surgery was on an outpatient basis and Roethlisberger has a history of healing quickly, there was speculation he could play against the Patriots. However, Tomlin ruled Roethlisberger out during his weekly news conference Tuesday.
The coach also said he had no timetable for Roethlisberger’s return. However, it seems reasonable to think he could play Nov. 6 when the Steelers visit the Ravens at Baltimore after having a bye next week.
Tomlin also quashed speculation that third-stringer Zack Mettenberger might get the nod based on having made 10 starts in the NFL compared to Jones’ two.
The Steelers drafted Jones in the fourth round in 2013 from Oklahoma and he did not attempt a pass in his first two seasons before playing in seven games last year, two of which were starts.
The Steelers split those two starts and Jones threw for a total of 513 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions after beginning the season as the third-string quarterback behind Roethlisberger and Mike Vick.
“I will say this about Landry: He has been here a number of years now; he has a very good understanding of our offense,” Tomlin said. “That knowledge and understanding is one thing, the ability to execute is another. We are going to give him all the reps this week and let him go through the preparation process.”
While facing the Patriots is a tall task, Jones believes he can succeed after getting the two starts under his belt last season.
“The more you play, the more experience you get, the more confidence you get,” Jones said. “You never know how you are going to respond whenever you are placed in that moment. Now I have a couple of games where I have had to go in as a starter, or if Ben goes down having to go back in, so it’s just like an old hat. You know what to expect out there.”
Tomlin, though, knows that the game won’t be decided solely by understanding Xs and Os. Jones will need to perform at a high level.
However, facing the Patriots might not be such a daunting task for Jones as it would seem on the surface. Despite their impressive record, the Patriots rank 13th in the NFL in total yards allowed and 18th in passing yards allowed.
“It’s less about what he knows and more about what he is capable of executing at a high level,” Tomlin said. “His opinion will be a component of that. He is a good communicator. It’s part of the functions of being a backup quarterback, the talking of schematics and the seeing of what is on the field and the communicating of such.”
“He has grown in a lot of ways in that area in the last several years. Hopefully that’s an asset to him as we prepare and ultimate play this week.”
Jones has now spent four years under offensive coordinator Todd Haley and feels very comfortable in his system.
That is one of the reasons why the Steelers tabbed him to start over Mettenberger, who is still getting proficient with the offense after joining the team at the end of the preseason when claimed off waivers from the San Diego Chargers.
Haley will not have to scale back the playbook with Jones starting.
“We didn’t change much at all of what we were doing as far as the game plan last year,” Jones said. “I expect it to be kind of the same this year. I have been here for four years. Being able to be at the same place, having the same offensive coordinator, learning the same offense for four years. It’s like you know it inside and out.”
“There are things to grow and game experience. As far as the offense is concerned, I feel like I have it down pretty well.”
Jones also won the trust of his teammates last season, especially after he rallied the Steelers to victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6 as Roethlisberger sat out the game with a knee injury and Vick then went out with an injury.
Jones completed 8 of 12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns as the Steelers overcame a 10-3 deficit to win 25-13.
“When he’s confident and he made some plays and he got in a pep in his step, I think Landry can strike and do a lot of good things,” Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell said. “We have to get him to the point to where he’s real confident and he feels like he can do no wrong. That’s when he can be striking.”
Jones believes he will be at the point Sunday.
“Practice is so much different than games,” Jones said. “You never know what you are going to get from a guy until they go into the game. Last year I performed pretty well in most of the situations. I feel like I have the confidence from the guys.”
It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll have Roethlisberger, a 13-year veteran, to lean on for advice.
“You draw from (Roethlisberger’s) experience and the ability to how he’s able to see the field,” Jones said. “That’s what I draw from him and trust in what he’s seeing out the. In Kansas City, there were things that he picked up on that I wasn’t seeing and helped us throughout the process of the whole game.”