Friday, September 6, 2013

The Steelers need Ben to be more than just Ben

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Listen to our Steelers preview podcast here

"Ben being Ben" means anything you want it to mean.  It means Ben just shook off a 320lb defensive lineman and threw a 44-yard touchdown.  It means Ben threw his third interception in the first half of a playoff game.  It means Ben took his offensive linemen out to dinner.  It means Ben makes the greatest throw in Super Bowl history.  It means Ben describes his injury as "Doc said it just nicked my aorta."  It means Ben is facing sexual assault allegations.  It means Ben's career record is 87-39.  It means Ben's dad is named Ken.  It means Ben bought his offensive linemen new watches.  It means Ben rolls out of bed and wins 10 games.  It means Ben rolls his ankle and makes sure the cameras are watching as he climbs in a golf cart.

To GTOG, what makes Ben Ben is that he's completely unaware that he's a parody of himself.  He's the kind of guy who doesn't realize Kenny Powers isn't a real baseball player.

Read on for more about Ben being Ben.

Before last season, Ben insisted that his 10-day, 12-rounds-of-golf trip to Ireland was not a vacation.  As the greatest opening sentence in the history of sports writing put it, "Ben Roethlisberger will prepare himself for the new NFL season by embarking upon an extraordinary golfing marathon he believes will sharpen his focus in advance of the 2012 campaign."  It continued, with quotes from Big Ben himself:
“You really have to think your way around and get the grips with the course and the difficulties it offers you. I am a pretty cerebral guy, so it is perfect to have that kind of activity in the offseason that keeps your brain ticking.”
Before this season, Ben did more than just get the grips and keep his brain ticking -- he added kayaking to his offseason regimen, crediting this "not traditional" training (read: "I went on vacation") with improving his arm strength and velocity from the end of last season when, in case he hadn't made you aware, he played through a Walter Reed-worthy assortment of injuries.

Ben has even parodied himself into being a thorn in the coaches' side, taking routine passive-aggressive shots at offensive coordinator Todd Haley (my personal favorite: "I joke and say that my final paper for Miami on Tibet was a lot easier than the Rosetta Stone we're doing now here"), playing through injuries he shouldn't, and blocking the coaches' view from the sideline with his over-sized head and body.

Wreckage of Amelia Earhart's plane was found in Ben's hood.
On the field, Ben being Ben can mean anything.  He's been to three Super Bowls, pulls plays out of his ass that no one else can, and his winning percentage equates to 11 wins per year.  If he maintains his level of play for even a few more years, he's a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, if he isn't already.

But last year, in addition to 26 TDs, 8INTs, and 97.0 QB rating in only 13 starts, Ben being Ben also meant this:
You could easily find 4 games last year that the Steelers wouldn't have won without Ben, but the end result is 4-4, 8-8, and not in the playoffs.  Ben being Ben is fine, as long as you're getting more of the the Good Ben (2 Super Bowls and a 10-4 playoff record) and less of the Bad Ben (17 INTs in those same 14 playoff games, including four returned for touchdowns).

So Ben.
We were very pessimistic in our Steelers preview podcast, mainly because outside of Ben, it's hard to identify a single player on the Steelers who is among the ten best guys in the league at his position.  But if you want a glass-half-emptier viewpoint, look at Ben, who easily could be morphing into a harder-to-sack mid-30's version of Brett Favre, and not just because there's definitely a picture of his penis on someone's cell phone.

While still effective, the edge he gives the Steelers at QB in 2013 -- and beyond -- isn't so clear.

Brees, Brady, Manning, and Rodgers aren't slowing down.  Eli is Ben, only more boring.  Matt Ryan is on the cusp of a Super Bowl.  Joe Flacco had arguably the greatest postseason in history, and is 3 years younger than Ben with a 9-4 postseason record (19TDs, 8 INTs).  Matt Schaub and Andy Dalton are competent enough.  Matt Stafford, Jay Cutler, and Tony Romo -- would it shock you if they won a playoff game?

Andrew Luck, RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton are already Pro Bowl-caliber, but are also 3-4 years away from even entering their prime.  We haven't seen enough of Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker to rule any of them out from developing into solid quarterbacks.  Phil Rivers, Sam Bradford, Mike Vick, and Josh Freeman -- they aren't great, but they're a lot more competent than the Brooks Bollingers, Joey Harringtons, Gus Frerottes and Kyle Bollers that were rounding out the bottom tier of QB starters in 2005.

That's 24 quarterbacks who range from decent to excellent.  Ben's better than almost all of those guys, but what is he capable of if the defense slips?  We don't really know.

All we know is that we could say "oh that's just Ben being Ben" after every game and we'd have no idea if that meant the Steelers won or lost.

Never was Ben being Ben more evident than in the second game of the preseason against the Redskins, when Ben threw a screen pass directly into the arms of a defensive lineman, who could have walked to the Steelers' end zone slower than Mario Lemieux walks to a ceremonial puck drop.

Mario being Mario.
Down 7-0 on the next drive, Ben escaped the same lineman in a way that only Ben can and made a spectacular pass to David Paulson.  It was Ben being Ben: utter dopiness followed by Hall-of-Fame caliber excellence.  Unfortunately, the Steelers ended up settling for a field goal.

But the bigger problem for Ben and the Steelers is that even if that drive had ended in a touchdown, the score would have only been, fittingly, 7-7.

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