Recently, Brenden Driscoll of NPC penned an article talking about the “title window” and whether or not it is closing in on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The argument centers on franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He’s only 32, in his prime, and has quite a few years for the Steelers to build a more potent offense and stout defense to get them back into Super Bowl winning form.
Pondering this notion lead me to another thought – “Does Big Ben have any big wins left in him?”
The root of this thought is not grounded in his ability. We all know Roethlisberger is a Top 5 (Top 10 for you haters) quarterback in the NFL. Steeler Nation has witnessed time and time again his ability to command the offense, make effective throws, and extend plays that turn potential sacks into 30 yard gains. The thought with Big Ben at the helm is that week in and week out he gives this team the best chance possible for a win.
But as offensive coordinator Todd Haley continues to refine the offense and shift Roethlisberger’s playing style more into what he (Haley) wants, is Haley also taking away one of Roethlisberger’s greatest strengths? And therefore, isn’t he taking away his ability to win games? I’ve always been a critic of Haley from the very start. But this is less of a criticism as much as it is an observation. There’s no doubt that Ben’s adjusting and performing well in the revamped Haley offense.
The demand to have Ben stand in the pocket, deliver the ball quickly and avoid a sack is starting to really take hold. Pushing suspect play calling by Haley off to the side, Roethlisberger did incredibly well in 2013. There’s no doubt that Big Ben has become more efficient with the quick short pass (bubble screen not included). And, it’s effective in slicing up chunks of yards. But, has this style of offense crippled his big play making ability? I would like to think that his ability to scramble, dodge tackles, and hitting a receiver 20 yards downfield into broken coverage is purely instinct. But, it’s not. By keeping him locked into the pocket for the majority of a game, how comfortable is he really in scrambling and accurately slinging the ball down the field? How many times did his over shoot an open receiver last year when he did scramble?
It’s my belief that Ben Roethlisberger is a very different breed of QB. He thrives when the chips are down and his back is pinned to the wall. He’s had 23 4th quarter comebacks, and 32 game winning drives according to Pro Football Reference. They came most frequently in 2005 and in 2008 – the two years the Steelers won the Super Bowl, with one of those game winning drives happening in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIII. All of those drives encompassed him scrambling and dodging and finding the open guy to keep the drive alive. It’s not methodical. It’s not pretty. But at those times (and in those two years) he always seemed to get the job done. It’s not rocket science. And, it’s not ‘the magic’ that I see so many critics spout out when saying that ‘the magic is gone with Big Ben.’ It’s just who he is, and it’s not him that’s the problem by not being able to deliver in a loss.
There are two factors that might be contributing to this – the defense has struggled to keep games close in order to give Ben a fighting chance in the second half of a game. Yes, I said he thrives when his back is pinned to the wall. Being down a TD in the fourth with three minutes left is your back against the wall. Being down three scores in the fourth quarter is just getting stepped on. Rarely will a team come back from that. And then, when the offense gets some scores to close the gap, the defense can’t hold. The other factor is what has been discussed already – he’s out of his element the majority of the game by being forced to stay within the pocket and just get rid of the ball. That kind of switch has to mess with an athletes mind, a poo poo to the critiques who dog him for that like he’s some kind of damn robot who can just switch it on and off.
The style of play that is meant to extend his career is potentially keeping him back from reaching his full potential as a quarterback and Super Bowl bound quarterback. A sick twist, and one I continually hope that is adjusted as much as possible to get Ben the freedom to scramble once again. There’s always a risk for injury at any given time, and I would rather see the risk happen in moments where Ben is giving them a chance to win a game and make big plays – not in moments where he’s committed to the pocket and it collapses around him faster than a cave in.
The title window is far from closing for the Steelers. Just think of that window having a storm window screen in front that they need to bust through. They have an opportunity with a younger team to use speed and raw skill to give them a hot push into a playoff scenario. That offensive line will get better too. I see Ben not only overcoming the defense as an obstacle, but also the style of play he’s been forced into.
It could also end disastrously, but I’m still putting my money on the Steelers and #7 that they can make a few more playoff pushes and get at least get to Seventh Heaven.