Pittsburgh Steelers' Playoff Hopes Rest on Ben Roethlisberger's Shoulders
After losing three-of-four games—two of which came at home—the Steelers are in danger of losing their grasp on the sixth and final playoff spot.
They are not a great football team right now.
The injuries have piled up and the next man up has not always been able to cut it. Key contributors to the team have already missed 70 games through 13 weeks and this number will only grow as the season progresses.
As a result, the team has never truly been able to find its stride and they are struggling as the season is coming to an end, but there is a feeling that the team is ready to turn the corner and settle down on four wheels as they make a run at the playoffs.
“I think that’s a good way to put it, turning the corner on two wheels,” said Ben Roethlisberger. “But I think the turn is over. I think we’re going to settle back on four, kick it into four-wheel drive and get going” (via Steelers.com).
Is there a better player than Roethlisberger to drive that vehicle into the playoffs?
I don’t think so.
Roethlisberger is a steadying force who can settle a lineup that has not been settled from week to week. As a result of the constantly changing lineup, the Steelers’ faults have been exposed in a big way.
Roethlisberger is perfectly equipped to take control and make the big time plays that this team has been missing over the past month.
With Roethlisberger in the lineup, the Steelers are 6-4.
While not a stellar record, the team has averaged 23.4 points per game with him under center compared to only 16 points per game (and one of those touchdowns was the result of a defensive touchdown from Lawrence Timmons).
Coming off of an injury last week, Roethlisberger was off and the results showed as the Steelers got dismantled by the San Diego Chargers 34-24.
He admitted to Steelers.com that he was “a little anxious” and “a little rusty” at the start of the game.
Well there is no more time to be anxious or rusty as the Steelers try to right the ship.
After a strong surge in the middle of the season, the ground game has been off course.
Which unit is the biggest problem on offense?
A major reason why the running game stalled in the first place was a banged up offensive line.
An injury to left guard Willie Colon forced the coaching staff to move Maurkice Pouncey to guard for a game while Doug Legursky started at center.
Third-string tackle Kelvin Beachum was also thrust into action with right tackle Mike Adams missing significant time due to injury.
On top of the struggles on the ground, the “young money” crew has struggled getting open in recent weeks. Even when they are open, they are not making all of the plays that they need to—particularly Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Wallace continues to drop catchable balls on a weekly basis and Brown has not been much better as he has not been able to put up the numbers that you would expect from a top receiver this season.
Defensively, the Steelers have been playing well, but with injuries to Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, chances are that they will not be able to match their success until they have a healthy defensive backfield.
A lack of pass rush will put a tremendous amount of pressure on the defensive backs to stay with their receivers and make plays on the ball.
That leaves the Steelers success up to Roethlisberger. Now with the rust knocked off, there is no reason that he shouldn’t be able to lead Pittsburgh to success.
Roethlisberger has made the playoffs in six out of his eight seasons in the league and is in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career.
He will need to be even better at putting points on the board with an offense that has lost its rhythm right now.
That places a lot weight on Roethlisberger’s shoulders and he would not have it any other way.
It all begins in Dallas this week as the Steelers face a Cowboys team that is desperate to stay alive in the NFC.
You may see the vintage Roethlisberger scrambling around the pocket as he tries to avoid pressure from DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
Even though Todd Haley has tried to get the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands this year, he is at his best when moving around the pocket looking to make plays.
Roethlisberger will also be playing with a chip on his shoulder looking to bounce back after a disappointing performance last week against “America’s Team.”
A big performance from the quarterback on the road against a tough NFC team would provide the reeling Steelers with a big boost heading into their final two games against AFC North rivals Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
With the exception of last week, Roethlisberger has been outstanding at home throwing for 1,086 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception for a quarterback rating of 100.
It will only be his second and third starts this season against AFC North opponents, but it will by far be the most important ones. Win both of these games and the Steelers will be in the playoffs.
So while the Steelers have been knocked down in recent weeks, but they have not been knocked out. It is going to take a drastic change to get the team back on track by picking them up and carrying them on their shoulders.
If anyone can do that, it is Ben Roethlisberger.
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