To Ben, or not to Ben, that is the question. It will be a question that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be asked several different ways during his Tuesday press conference and when his final decision is made on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, it will be second guessed for several more weeks to come.
Ben Roethlisberger of course is still recovering from his high left ankle sprain suffered in the last game against the Browns on December 8th. That injury took place in the second quarter and he was able to return and play the second half as the Steelers came away with the win. Roethlisberger played 11 days later against the San Francisco 49ers, but was severely limited in what he could do. The injury likely caused him to over compensate on several throws, and Roethlisberger ended up with 3 interceptions in the loss.
Tomlin was criticized heavily after the game for not only allowing Roethlisberger to play on the bad ankle, but also not getting him out of the game in the 4th quarter. Ben finished the game, but was not able to make the quick turnaround for the game this past Saturday against the St. Louis Rams. He did dress for the game, but was only available for an emergency situation according to Tomlin after the game. Veteran Charlie Batch started in his place and the Steelers shutout the Rams 27-0.
So what does Tomlin do now going forward? There is still a possibility the Steelers can get a first round bye should they beat the Browns on Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals beat or tie the Baltimore Ravens. They also could get the #1 seed still should, in addition to the above happening, the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills as well. Should they just take their chances that they can beat the Browns with Batch and let Roethlisberger sit out until the playoffs start? Should Roethlisberger, if he is able to work this week in practice, get at least a half in against the Browns?
If Roethlisberger makes it to the practice field this week, you know he is going to want to play, as he is just 144 passing yards short of 4000 for the season. It would be just the second time in his career he has thrown for that number. Stats aside, he wants to be out there. He also would probably like to get in some reps before the playoffs start in addition. Should the Steelers somehow end up with a first round bye and Roethlisberger sits out this week, it would mean that he will not have thrown a pass in a game since the Monday night loss in San Francisco. That could end up being about 4 weeks of no game action should they indeed end up with a bye. Should he wind up being healthy, but rusty, everyone will point to him missing time in the last two games as the reason why. Should he play Sunday against the Browns and aggravate the ankle, the Steelers could have to turn around and play the wild card round with a still less than 100% Roethlisberger, or worse, with Batch under center.
Fans love second guessing coaches decisions and Steeler Nation is at the top of that list when it comes to doing just that. The only way that Tomlin comes out of this without being second guessed only just a little, is if the Steelers run the table and capture their 7th Lombardi Trophy. It would start by him starting Batch against the Browns and hopefully getting the road win. Tomlin is easily in a near no-win situation here in regards to Roethlisberger playing or not against the Browns. I trust he will make what he deems the right decision on Sunday and so should you. I just hope it is his decision and that Roethlisberger is not making it instead.