A Ben Roethlisberger Suspension Could Ruin the Pittsburgh Steelers' Season

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IApril 16, 2010

CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 27:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is pictured during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There will be at least another week to wait before Ben Roethlisberger is disciplined for his off-field incidents violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.

According to Steelers team President Art Rooney II, the team and league is prepared to punish the star quarterback, but he will be given an opportunity to meet the standards expected of being a Pittsburgh Steeler.

“After imposing an appropriate level and outlining the steps we feel will be necessary to be successful as a player and a person, we intend to allow Ben the opportunity to prove to us he is the teammate and citizen we all believe he is capable of being…And we hope the entire Steelers community will allow Ben the opportunity to prove to them that he deserves their trust and their respect.”

There has been much speculation as to Roethliberger’s likely suspension. At first, it was expected that he would receive at least a one or two game suspension, but after details of the sexual allegations have been released, there is some public sentiment that Roethlisberger should face a four, eight, or even full season suspension. 

Others have suggested that Roethlisberger should be traded.

A trade would be rather extreme considering that there was not even probable cause to arrest Roethlisberger for his actions in Georgia, that is unless the Steelers are solely judging his morals.

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The more likely course of action will be a suspension and it will likely come from the league rather than the team as explained by Rooney.

“I think we’d probably prefer to do it, but the truth of the matter is we’re dealing with a player who has a contract, we’re dealing with a situation where there’s a collective bargaining agreement -- the players association may or may not have input into it. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that probably prevent us from moving ahead on our own at this point.”

There may be some issues from the league side as well, as commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to suspend a player for violating the Personal Conduct Policy who has not been charged.

Regardless of who issues the punishment, it is clear that Steelers and the NFL want to make it clear that Roethlisberger is not conducting himself in an acceptable manner.

“I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards,” Rooney said at a press conference earlier this week.  “We have made it very clear to Ben that there will be consequences for his actions, and Ben has indicated to us that he is willing to accept those consequences.”

Roethlisberger has not choice but to accept those consequences. However, if these include a suspension, short or lengthy, he will not be the only one that has to accept them.

Since Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have slowly built themselves around Roethlisberger. 

The Steelers of old -- smash mouth football on offense, tough, physical defense -- are no more.

Pittsburgh’s offense is a pass first, second, and third offense. They run three, four, and five wide receiver sets, have virtually eliminated the blocking fullback from their offense, and line up with an empty backfield on third and inches, even when it is cold and windy.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believes in taking chances downfield just for the sake of taking chances, does not stick with the hot running back, and does not fully utilize his players to his strength.

As a result the defense sometimes suffers. 

Pittsburgh no longer has a ball control offense, where they can wear an opponent down in the fourth quarter by running the ball.  An older defense that lacks playmakers in the secondary -- aside from Troy Polamalu -- struggled maintaining fourth quarter leads last season, which resulted in a number of losses.

In all likelihood the Steelers will have the same starting unit again this season. While they do have young players in LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, as well as Ziggy Hood who should have an increased role, the rest of their over-30 veterans will be yet another year older.

The team is built for shootouts right now, even after the trade of Santonio Holmes.

It can be argued that the Steelers will run the ball more this season after comments Rooney made following the Steelers disappointing 9-7 finish.

But these changes cannot be made instantly.

The Steelers lack the personnel to have an elite running attack, something that is necessary when the team lacks a franchise quarterback.

While their offensive line is built primarily with run blockers, they do not have any player on this unit that is truly elite, or even above average for that matter.

Help could be found in the draft, where the Steelers could select an interior lineman who could immediately step in as an upgrade in the first round, but that is only one position out of five.

There is also the issue of the offensive coordinator. Arians can agree to run the ball, but when it comes time to calling a game, will Arians stick with the run if it is not successful after a few attempts? Is he willing to stay with Rashard Mendenhall after several successful runs? Will he be able to diversify his offense with the talent that is available to him?

Until Arians can prove that over the course of the season, it is a legitimate question.

The more important issue is the backup quarterback. Charlie Batch is the established veteran who knows s the Steelers offensive system and has performed in the past. However, the past is the past and Batch is not the same player that he was a few seasons ago.

Still a valuable commodity, Batch’s arm strength is no longer where it needs to be and he is a sitting target behind the Steelers porous offensive line.

Enter Dennis Dixon. 

Dixon is significantly more mobile than Batch and has better arm strength.  What he does not have is the game experience or the knowledge that Batch has. 

In two years in the league, Dixon has only played in two games, including a start at Baltimore last season.

Dixon put forth a good effort against a tough Raven’s team, but only connected on 46 percent of his passes for 145 yards and added 27 yards on the ground, including rushing for a touchdown. He added a passing touchdown, but threw a costly interception in overtime that lead to a Ravens win.

While Dixon flashed some potential, by no means does he give the Steelers anywhere near the chance to win that Roethlisberger does and this makes it likely that the Steelers struggle without Roethlisberger in the lineup.

What if Roethlisberger gets a four game suspension, meaning he misses the first four games of the season? It is realistic that the Steelers could lose three or even four to start the season, ending it before it even starts.

A second straight season without a playoff appearance would not sit well with Steelers fans and it would also put a tremendous amount of pressure on Tomlin.

The drama of Roethlisberger’s situation will hang over the team until he returns to the lineup.  There will be non-stop questions about the state of the team and what it is like to play without their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

If the suspension is longer, the damage could be worse and Pittsburgh could be looking at a top 10 selection in next year’s draft.

The team clearly knows the consequences of a suspension, but will the same fans calling for Roethlisberger to be suspended and/or traded going to show up to watch a sub .500 football team? Probably not.

“It’s been a difficult situation. I think we understand that we all in this organization have a lot of work to do to earn the fans’ trust back,” Rooney said of Roethlisberger’s ordeal.

In the end, fans care about supporting their team, specifically their team when it is winning. 

Rooney added, “As far as Ben is concerned, he understands where we are and is prepared to live with the consequences. We’re giving Ben an opportunity to regain the trust and respect that he wants to have and to regain the opportunity to be a successful football player for us.”

Roethlisberger has to live with the consequences, but the team will too. Are they willing to sacrifice their season in order to punish him with a suspension, a punishment that will hit his pay, possibly in upwards one million dollars or higher in lost game checks?

Does the organization feel that a suspension, as opposed to counseling, will be what it takes for Roethlisberger to regain the respect of his teammates and to prevent him from acting in this manner again?

Is the team ready to risk a losing season and empty seats at Heinz Field?

The bottom line is that the Steelers have to prepare for Roethlisberger’s absence. There may be a very rough patch if he is suspended, but the healing will begin when he gets back to what he does best, winning football games.

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