Our quarterback has been the topic of debate all week long on all the airwaves due to that frustrating performance on Monday night in San Francisco. From the moment we all saw him limping around during pregame warm-ups and then that first interception, the opinions started flying. Should he have played? Would Batch have been more effective? What would the story about Ben playing on a bum ankle have been like if the Steeler won the game? We can play the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” game all we want now, but that game is over and we have 2 more staring us in the face before the post-season begins.
One thing that is not debatable, Ben was not effective on Monday night. Three interceptions and a lost fumble is pretty friggin ineffective. We all know that the second interception was a pass that Heath Miller should have caught, but Ben clearly wasn’t 100%. Ben threw for 330 yards but also accounted for 4 turnovers. Ben even stated himself that he was probably, “the best 49er out there”. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Ben sat and rested the ankle while Batch and Dixon mixed it up with the offense. Ben had a light practice on Saturday and it was announced late Sunday night that we would be the starter.
There was a little controversy over whether or not Ben had taken a pain-killing shot before the game. Ben and the Steelers trainer were quite offended at the idea, while NFL “experts” Steve (I owe my career to Montana and Rice) Young and Trent (Worst QB to ever win a Super Bowl) Dilfer seemed pretty certain that Ben had taken a shot in order to play. Ben stated that there was no shot and he played on “2 Advils, 2 Tylenols, and adrenaline.” The risk of taking a shot to play through an injury is that you won’t be able to feel it if you end up hurting yourself worse. Believe what you want, but I don’t think I’m being a naive homer when I say that I totally believe Ben when he says he didn’t take a shot. I think back to when Greg Lloyd suffered a staph infection due to a pain-killing shot and that 2002 game against the Ravens where Bettis was pulled minutes before the game because a pain-killing shot left his entire leg numb. I think perhaps the Steelers training and coaching staff has a very good policy that if a player needs a shot in order to play, then they’re not able to play.
Whether Ben had a bad game because of his ankle or he had a bad game and just happened to also have a bad ankle is still up in the air. Personally, I’m not a fan of sitting players at the end of the season just because you’ve clinched this or that and you want the star players rested for the post-season. People who go to games in Week 16 or 17 pay just as much for their seats as the people who went to games in Week 5 or 10. They’re not looking to watch their team coast through their final games in preparation for the playoffs. Plus, I just don’t feel good about my team being ok if they happen to lose a game because they’ve already clinched something. It should never be ok to lose a game. I throw a toddler-like temper tantrum each time the Steelers lose and I hope that the players and coaches feel as strongly about winning and losing games as I do (although I’m sure they handle themselves a bit more maturely than I do).
Tomlin isn’t giving anybody any clues on whether Ben will start on Saturday, but there has only been 1 day of practice so far this week. I’m a little conflicted on Tomlin this week. While he said by far one of my most favorite quotes so far in his press conference this week in regards to playing Ben, “We don’t live in our fears, we live in our hopes.” He has also stated time and time again when it has come to players stepping in for Woodley, Harrison, Polamalu, and Pouncey that he doesn’t consider having starters and back-ups, he has “starters and starters-in-waiting”. It seems to me though, that this is true for all other positions except for quarterback. I know how special Roethlisberger is, he is having a career that will probably end up being the greatest quarterback in Steelers history, but I gotta say, Tomlin isn’t exuding a whole heap of confidence in Batch or Dixon. Seems as though any other player goes out and the next man up shouldn’t be an issue but Tomlin is going out of his way to not play Batch or Dixon and that just strikes me as odd.
Between Dixon and Batch, the Steelers went 3-1 last season while Ben was serving his suspension. That was better than anyone had expected them to start considering how important Ben is to the offense. Granted, they started off knowing Ben wouldn’t be playing so they had the value of training camp to prepare Dixon and Batch for starting rather than midweek practicing in preparation for the next game up. I believe in Batch’s abilities to fill in for Ben, especially against the Rams and Browns.
So what it all comes down to is should Ben sit and rest his ankle the remainder of the season or should he continue to limp around the field to ensure our best chances of winning out and staying even with the Ratbirds? Honestly, even at the end of this post I’m not sure myself. I can agree with both sides of the argument. If Ben is healthy and effective, he should play. Just as Woodley, Polamalu, Pouncey, Sanders, and any other player on the injury report. If you’re healthy, you’re playing. But if you’re banged up and ineffective, the next man up needs to step in because the “standard is the standard”. Go Steelers!
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