By Jeremy Hritz
Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had what was described as a minor procedure done on his right knee. This sent a wave of anxiety through Steelers Nation and stirred discussion about Roethlisberger’s remaining time in the NFL.
Specifically, on Sirius XM Radio on Ross Tucker’s The Opening Drive, the topic of discussion was how may productive years does Roethlisberger have left?, with Tucker adamantly pointing out that Roethlisberger had played 16 games in only one of his nine seasons. He went on to say that Roethlisberger’s style of play will not afford him the longevity at the quarterback position like that of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Tucker posted the following tweet about Roethlisberger: “Many assume all these elite QBs will play into their late 30’s. I’ll take the “under” on Big Ben….”
This does raise a question that is critical to the stability of the Steelers quarterback situation: how much longer can Roethlisberger play his style of football in the NFL?
At 31 years old, Roethlisberger is entering his tenth season under center. A recent article by Dustin Hockensmith from PennLive.com summarizes Roethlisberger’s injury history, which reads like a itemized list of the human body: “Roethlisberger has suffered chest, rib, thumb, ankle, knee, shoulder, head, hand, and foot injuries throughout his career. And those are just some of his documented ailments; who knows what else he’s played through.” With his unorthodox style and willingness to hold on to the football as long as possible to connect on a play, Roethlisberger has taken too many shots to count. On top of that, he has never been fortunate enough to play behind what could be considered an “elite” offensive line, except for maybe his first two seasons. As a result, Big Ben has been sacked 344 times, something that offensive coordinator Todd Haley was brought in to help change last season.
Roethlisberger did take fewer sacks in 2012, though he did suffer a shoulder/rib injury on a hit against the Kansas City Chiefs that put him out for three games. The 30 sacks that he took were tied for the second lowest amount in his career (he was sacked 30 times as a rookie), though he only started thirteen games. This decrease could possibly be attributable to Haley’s emphasis on Roethlisberger getting rid of the football quickly, something that has been subject to disapproval since that style of play is the antithesis of what makes Roethlisberger great: improvisation.
The question now is can Ben play five or six productive more years by holding true to his inherent gunslinger persona? Or does he have to modify his game in order to achieve longevity? If altering his style of play is the only way that Roethlisberger can play into his late thirties, can he still be effective?
Roethlisberger truly is the driver of the Steelers offense, and without him, their chances for winning another title are tenuous. He must stay healthy, but at the same time, he must be true to the style of play that has made him successful during his career. Unfortunately, that style has sabotaged his last two seasons.
How will the final chapter of Roethlisberger’s career play out? Will he successfully merge his maverick style with Haley’s quick release offense and extend his career? Or will Ben simply be Ben and play the game the way he has always played it? If history tells us anything, for better or for worse, it is that Roethlisberger does things his way. And how that will turn out in terms of health and championships is a question that will be answered only by time.
With that in mind, what do you think? How many more productive years does Roethlisberger have left with the Steelers?