Monday, November 10, 2008

Big Ben: The Saga of a Battered Quarterback


Is Big Ben ready to strike midnight?

Does anybody remember when Big Ben used to roll outside of the pocket and throw on the run, even running for an occasional gain? Keep that mental image in your mind because you’re not likely to see it again anytime soon.

In a performance that only seemed to magnify the differences that have crept into Ben Roethlisberger’s game during a punishing first half of the season, the Steeler quarterback fired a costly interception just before halftime that allowed the Indianapolis Colts to cut their deficit to just three points. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Big Ben, who’s plethora of injuries have finally seemed to catch up with him, continued with his penchant for forcing balls and making bad decisions. This loss to the Colts, which ended with an unsuccessful hail mary pass in the end zone and a 24-20 score, is the second loss in three weeks to a top quality opponent that could have, some would say should have gone the other way.

This was a game where the Steelers appeared to be gaining control of the contest during the second quarter when the first interception occurred. It was a game where once again the Steelers defense was more than holding its’ own against a top-rated opponent. But it turned out to be another big one that got away. Speaking of one getting away, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu let two interceptions slip through their hands and in the case of the Taylor missed ball, the opportunistic Colts converted that one into a 65 yard touchdown. Meanwhile, Polamalu would still be running had he been able to hang onto his ball.

While the Steelers continue through this most difficult of schedules in over 40 years, things won’t get any easier when they take on the San Diego Chargers in another 4:00 national broadcast. Can you remember when the Steelers had this many big games and so many nationally televised in one year? But they're still 6-3 so things could be a lot worse.

While there were certainly many positives to take from this game, I for one, had been much in favor of sitting Big Ben last week and allowing a healthy Byron Leftwich to work with the receivers during the week. This didn’t happen as a lethal combination of macho-bravado and pig-headedness on Ben’s part kept him in as the starter. The result is that now if Coach Mike Tomlin sits Ben after a loss, it looks like a benching and not an injury “timeout” for the battered quarterback.

While no one in the Burgh doubts Ben’s desire to win or his dedication to his teammates, there comes a time where common sense has to prevail. Are the Steelers more likely to win with Ben’s physical ailments getting the best of him or should he have had enough common sense to defer to his backup in this type of a situation? Or should Tomlin have intervened? Isn't he supposed to be the voice of logic in the locker room? In my mind I see this as a resounding "yes" as in, "Yes, Ben should have sat that one out yesterday."

While the short passing game for the most part worked pretty well, it was painfully obvious that Ben can’t throw a deep ball (at least more than once or twice) in a game and that he is guarding against taking another major shot to his body.

Ben’s not the first quarterback who refused to hand over the reins when he was injured. It seems that for these guys it’s a sign of their true manhood that they would fearlessly go out onto the field when imperiled by serious injuries. What’s sad about it is seeing a good team lose games that maybe it shouldn’t be because the q.b. should be off recuperating somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of #7. If we didn’t have a competent backup (a la Dallas), I couldn’t blame his courage in the face of adversity. But we have a more than competent #2 man. It’s time for the coach to start earning his salary and playing a man on Sunday who’s well enough to practice with the team during the week. It’s ridiculous to think that Big Ben or any man could continually get away with that lack of preparation in this most competitive of leagues, the National Football League.