Pittsburgh Steelers: How Mike Tomlin's Mismanagement of Big Ben Cost Team

Nick DeWittAnalyst IJanuary 10, 2012

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Much has been made of how Mike Tomlin handled—or didn’t handle—Ben Roethlisberger’s high ankle sprain as the Steelers moved down the stretch and into the playoffs. While you can’t blame the Roethlisberger injury and handling of it alone for the loss to Denver and the consequently quick exit from the playoffs, it does bear some examination.

Most times, a high ankle sprain requires time to heal, and that time must be spent off the field. It robs a quarterback of mobility and the ability to step into throws correctly. The weight transfer is ruined, and balls tend to sail more often.

This was evident in a lot of Roethlisberger’s throws, particularly deep ones. He was just slightly off on passes he usually hits with ease. Those struggles contributed to a complete disappearance of the team’s offense down the stretch, particularly in the red zone, where they already had been struggling.

Mike Tomlin handled the injury by leaving it up to the medical staff and his quarterback. I take some issue with this because I feel that the head coach should be right in there making the decision. If anything, Tomlin should have never entertained the notion of allowed Roethlisberger to start against the 49ers.

By the time Pittsburgh played against San Francisco, they had clinched a berth in the playoffs. They needed a win there to step back in front of Baltimore. I know the sentiment was that Roethlisberger could potentially get Pittsburgh a week off and a home game or two.

The problem is that by playing him, they ensured failure. Roethlisberger was the key cog in that defeat because he was simply unable to throw correctly. Once the offensive line wore down, he was unable to avoid hits.

The big issue I take with Tomlin, however, comes late in that game. He continued to play Roethlisberger with the game basically out of reach. He shouldn’t have played, but playing him in a hopeless situation is exactly the kind of irresponsible action that became too common down the stretch.

The following week, Tomlin sat Roethlisberger. To me, that indicates that he believed the team wouldn’t need the quarterback to beat St. Louis. Why, then, did he need him to beat barely competitive Cleveland? Charlie Batch couldn’t have done that job too?

Wouldn’t that extra week of rest before the team entered the playoffs have been helpful?

To be honest, I wouldn’t have played anyone who was banged up in the final game. Pouncey, Roethlisberger and most of the team’s defensive stars should have sat. Instead, they went all out and came away in a terrible spot with injuries, particularly with a quarterback who tweaked his ankle.

Roethlisberger was both effective and ineffective against Denver, mostly depending on the type of play and the time left on the clock. Unfortunately, by then, Tomlin had mismanaged his injury so badly that when the final opportunity came, all Ben could do under pressure was take a few big hits.

Tomlin is a good coach, but he has some holes in his game. Managing injuries to star players is one of them and one that MUST be fixed before next season. The Steelers can’t afford to fall apart like that again because one player was knocked down and the team couldn’t adequately figure out how to handle it.