We may not see Ben Roethlisberger prowling the sidelines against the San Diego Chargers this Sunday.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported early on Tuesday that Roethlisberger is expected back this week, while Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin tempered that statement somewhat in his press conference later that morning, saying that if Roethlisberger threw well in practice on Wednesday and proved himself ready to play, he'd be the one under center.
Though the possibility is very real that Charlie Batch gets his third consecutive start, this is the most optimistic Tomlin and the Steelers have been about Roethlisberger's return since he injured his ribs and shoulder in Week 10 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Though the Steelers can win with Batch under center, as was proven in Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens, clearly Roethlisberger gives them a better chance of stringing together victories—the Steelers had lost three games with Roethlisberger as their quarterback and had put together a four-game win streak prior to his injury.
Here's how Roethlisberger's potential return this week could affect the Steelers, especially considering their present tenuous grasp on a wild-card playoff berth.
The Best Man for the Job
But more than that, prior to his injury, Roethlisberger was on pace to have the best season of his career. He had completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,287 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions and had been sacked a surprisingly low 18 times.
With Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger was more efficient and effective even if he wasn't taking the risky, deep shots that had been his calling card in seasons prior.
If Roethlisberger plays this week, he won't be 100 percent healthy. However, if he proves he can make throws and hold his own in Wednesday's practice, that will be all the Steelers need to decide to name him their starter. Roethlisberger's track record speaks for itself, and if he can play, he will—even if Batch will likely be the healthier quarterback.
The Steelers currently sit at 7-5, with two games remaining against AFC North opponents. They're two games behind the Baltimore Ravens for the division's top spot and have a chance to both solidify their postseason positioning as well as overtake the Ravens if they can win all of their four remaining games.
The quicker Roethlisberger returns, the greater the likelihood they can go undefeated in the final four weeks of the season. Though there's no guarantee they will, they clearly have a much better chance of doing so with Roethlisberger at quarterback rather than Batch.
While the switch in offensive coordinators from Bruce Arians to Haley has resulted in Roethlisberger spending more time in the pocket, it hasn't prevented him from extending plays with his legs, as is his signature. Defenses don't know what to expect out of Roethlisberger, even if it seems like pass-rushers have him in their hands.
With Batch under center, opponents can expect a more simplistic, pared-down version of Haley's offense, with less distribution of the ball and more conservative throws. Though Roethlisberger has been reined in somewhat this season thanks to Haley, his ability to spread the ball around to many different receivers, throw defenders off his scent with the play action and give would-be pass-rushers fits when trying to bring him down are qualities Batch simply does not possess.
It's harder to plan for Roethlisberger in the days leading up to facing the Steelers. Batch can be approached like a typical pocket-passing quarterback; the same cannot be said for Roethlisberger, and the fact that opposing teams go into games against Roethlisberger expecting the unexpected is a decided advantage for Pittsburgh.