Let’s review. The Steelers defense plays like men possessed. They dominated Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts offense. They hold them to 62 yards rushing. James Harrison adds to his sack total. Aaron Smith picks up a sack as well. The Steelers march the ball 62 yards for an easy touchdown on their very first offensive series. The Steelers’ offense maintains control of the ball for almost 10 minutes more than the Colts. Mewelde Moore rushes for 2 touchdowns. Big Ben throws for 284 yards. Clearly, that narrative ends with a decisive Steelers victory, right? Wrong.
In the normal universe, that game would have been an easy win for the Steelers. But in this bizarro universe that is the Steelers’ 2008 season, such performances sometimes result in losses. Too often, the cause of those losses proves to be Ben Roethlisberger.
In this unusual season, in which the Steelers were supposed to be overwhelmed by the NFL’s most difficult schedule, they instead find themselves with a 6-3 record. Moreover, they could easily be 8-1. Two of the losses, the ones to the Giants and Colts, should have been wins, had it not been for the poor play of the Steelers’ $100 million quarterback.
Yesterday, Ben Roethlisberger gave up two costly interceptions. The first, with only 1:30 remaining in the 1st half, gave the Colts great field position, and ultimately resulted in a Colts touchdown. So instead of going into halftime leading the Colts 17-7, the Steelers found themselves only leading by 3 points, 17-14.
The second costly interception came in the middle of the 4th quarter. With the Steelers leading 20-17, Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the game. Four plays later, the Colts had another touchdown, and led the Steelers 24-20. That would be the final score of the game.
It’s not fair to place the entire burden of the loss on Ben Roethlisberger’s sore shoulders. Afterall, it was coach Tomlin who allowed him to start despite missing practice most of the week. It was Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians who had Roethlisberger launch 42 passes with a sore shoulder. Most of those passes were off-target or fell woefully short of the intended receiver. I could see that as a spectator. Why couldn’t the Steelers coaching staff see as much?
History has shown us that Big Ben is a warrior, and he is willing to play through injuries. However, history has also shown us that Ben usually plays badly while hurt. Does anyone remember the awful 2006 season when Roethlisberger came back too soon from a motorcycle accident and an emergency appendectomy? Sure, it was courageous of him to try to be there for his teammates. But after throwing his 200th interception (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit), Coach Cowher should have benched him and let Charlie Batch play until Ben was fully recovered. The same is true this year. An injured Ben Roethlisberger is an ineffective Ben Roethlisberger. When will the Steelers’ coaching staff learn that lesson?
On two separate occasions this season, Byron Leftwich has come into the game and been more effective than Big Ben. That is not to say that Leftwich is better than Roethlisberger. He’s not. But Byron Leftwich at 100% is better than Ben Roethlisberger at 80%.
While Big Ben’s ego may not like the idea of being benched temporarily, it is the best decision for his long-term health. The Steelers have invested a lot of money in their franchise quarterback. It’s time to start protecting that investment. And it’s time to stop losing winnable games.
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