According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN on Sunday:
Ben Roethlisberger will begin soft tossing football early in week; pain tolerance and range of motion could allow his return vs. Ravens— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) November 25, 2012
Although this certainly comes as positive news regarding Big Ben and Steelers fans, would next week be too quick of a return for Pittsburgh's quarterback? Well, the Steelers certainly need their best quarterback to make a run at the postseason and to last deep into January.
The AFC has become stronger with teams such as the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts on the rise. Also, Peyton Manning enhancing the Denver Broncos makes this conference even tougher late in the season.
That said, let's break down each side of the coin if Roethlisberger happens to be under center next week.
The consistent dependability of Roethlisberger is what Pittsburgh would be getting back.
He's arguably the NFL's best quarterback on third down, and that aspect cost the Steelers against Baltimore in Week 11. There, Byron Leftwich only got Pittsburgh to go 5-of-17 on third down and Todd Haley's offense totaled just 309 yards with three turnovers.
Even though Pittsburgh outgained the Ravens and won the time of possession battle by almost six minutes, Leftwich's 46.1 completion percentage and three sacks taken never helps. Also, Baltimore's defense has improved as the 2012 season has progressed; so, the Steelers can't afford a similar lack of offensive production on the road.
Roethlisberger ensures reliable decision-making, as evidence of his 17 touchdowns to only four interceptions through Week 10. Factor in his 66.1 completion percentage and average of nearly 11 yards per completion.
If we learned anything from the 2011 season, it's coming back too early from an injury can be costly.
It was one of the most painful things I ever felt. It felt like the middle of my leg was just, cracked...it felt like my foot was outside of my leg.
Doctors said, "Just keep moving." As we kept going they said, "Just keep moving," because it literally felt like it was about to explode.
The bad news was exploited in Pittsburgh's next contest, which was a road game at the San Francisco 49ers. There, Big Ben was sacked three times, hit a total of eight, tossed three picks and fumbled twice (losing one) as the Steelers lost, 20-3.
In accounting for all of Pittsburgh's turnovers, Big Ben finished with a 56.8 completion percentage and perhaps the previous injury resulted in a down performance. After all, Roethlisberger's mobility was limited and San Francisco did present one of the NFL's top defenses.
Although the Ravens of 2012 are not on that level, the intensity and emotions that impact this rivalry will be a factor. And Baltimore will blitz early and often to stuff the run and try for immediate pressure on Roethlisberger to prevent Pittsburgh from maintaining balance.
What is better for the Steelers' 2012 season?
And the Better Decision...
This is a tough decision, because it's not so much the rivalry against Baltimore as it is needing Roethlisberger healthy down the road.
As we've seen from Pittsburgh throughout Big Ben's career, qualifying for the postseason has been all that has mattered. Well, with winnable games from Week 14 onward with the San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Browns in Week 17, January victories are the most important.
Obviously getting there is also key, but Pittsburgh has the defense and special teams to stay alive. Therefore, allowing Roethlisberger more time to rest would be better. Winning the division is almost out of reach at this point; however, the playoffs are still quite possible.
As a result, not putting Roethlisberger at further risk against a rival and improving defense saves for more effective offensive production down the stretch and in January.
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