By Matthew Marczi
End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Ben Roethlisberger
Experience: 10 Years
Ben Roethlisberger entered his 10th season in the NFL as the oldest player on the offensive side of the ball as he continues to grow into not just the captain of the offense, but the leader of the entire team, as a true franchise quarterback should be.
The season began fairly rough for him, however, as the end of the previous season finished. Roethlisberger suffered an unusual and awkward upper body injury in the middle of the 2012 season, and he never quite looked the same for the rest of the year.
I don’t want to go so far as to speculate that that injury carried on in some way into this season—in fact, I wouldn’t particularly expect that to be the case—but it took a while for Roethlisberger to appear comfortable, and not just because he was constantly running for his life with Mike Adams at left tackle.
Over the course of the first four games, Roethlisberger threw five interceptions and also fumbled the ball five times, losing four of them. When your quarterback is losing more than two turnovers every game, it’s hard to win. And they didn’t win a single game in the first month.
Even so, he ended up putting up some impressive yardage totals in desperate losses that included seemingly hopeless late rallies, as the one ended by a sack-fumble against the Minnesota Vikings.
Somewhere during the course of the middle of the season, the Steelers began using more no huddle in their offense and allowed Roethlisberger greater authority over the play selection at the snap, and this coincided with him playing some of the best football of his 10-year career.
Over one six-game span, he threw 16 touchdowns, a pace that would exceed 40 touchdowns projected over a full season and would shatter his own franchise-best 32 touchdowns. Thanks in very large part to that late-season stretch, he did have the second-highest touchdown total of his career with 28.
Equally important during that same period of time is that Roethlisberger also finally became more proactive in his own protection by taking less sacks, incorporating more quick timing passes into his repertoire, and more frequently permitting himself to utilize his check downs, which likely has something to do with the emergence of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.
While the season may have started off on a somewhat bumpy road for Roethlisberger—22 turnovers is the third-highest total of his career—there were some very real strides in his game in 2013 that should carry over into 2014. He is finding his own voice as an offensive leader, and his ability to stay healthy could help finally turn this offense into one that can carry a defense for a change.