Is Big Ben just getting started?
By Mike Prisuta
Friday, November 9, 2007
Five touchdown passes in 28:09 would seemingly speak for themselves.
But upon further review, Ben Roethlisberger's career game on Monday night was as revealing for the manner in which it was achieved as it was the heights the Steelers' quarterback reached.
Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 19 times against Baltimore.
On two occasions he threw flanker screens, getting rid of the football almost immediately upon receiving it.
On the other 17 attempts, he was sacked three times and flushed from the pocket six times.
In other words, the protection broke down more than half the time it was needed, and still Roethlisberger thrived.
We point this out not to bury the offensive line, but to praise Big Ben.
With little or no running game to rely upon and no time to execute the play as planned more often than not, Roethlisberger completed 69 percent of his passes and found three different receivers for a combined five scores.
Can it get any better than that?
And, what if it does?
It's the Cleveland Browns that Roethlisberger will attempt to dissect tomorrow, but at the same time it's the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts that the Steelers are chasing.
They can go a long way toward securing the AFC North Division championship by beating Cleveland.
But they'll still have a long way to go as far as perceiving themselves as the potential equals of Indianapolis and New England, as a team capable of doing something in a playoff matchup with the Colts or Patriots besides getting beaten.
To make the most of their expected return trip to the postseason, the Steelers are going to have to make up ground in a hurry.
They're going to have to improve their special teams coverage and returns.
They're going to have to get better up front (a lot of teams will struggle against Baltimore's front seven; the Steelers still have offensive line issues, particularly to the right of left guard Alan Faneca).
They're going to have to cover better on the edges (assuming Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, and Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark can actually be covered well enough to make a difference).
Yet those concerns will be minimized to an extent if Roethlisberger keeps pushing his game to previously unattained levels.
The Steelers drafted him to be a franchise quarterback, to stabilize the most important position on the field, to become that most critical of figures, a guy you can win with.
But did they draft him to be the equal of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?
And can Roethlisberger really become that someday, perhaps someday soon?
That wasn't a question worth considering.
Now, it's a compelling intangible heading into the second half of the season.
Brady and Manning have more experience, more expertise and more of a pedigree.
But what if the athleticism, accuracy and repeatedly lethal play-making Roethlisberger harnessed against Baltimore continues to be conjured up on a regular basis?
Could the balance of power in the conference potentially be altered?
First things first: The Steelers absolutely, positively need to beat Cleveland.
Should they achieve that, it'll be time to ponder not just the ramifications, but the possibilities.