One of the biggest stories around the NFL this off season was the four game suspension of Pittsburgh Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His suspension, originally six games, was reduced to four by league representatives, and now Roethlisberger will be returning in week six against the Browns. Seeing that the Steel City’s team was rather successful in his absence, common sense would depict that the Steelers will be on, or at a new level once they get their main gunslinger back.
But things may not be that simple. Pittsburgh went 3-1 without him, now they will need to re-adjust to him.
The Steelers, lead by head coach Mike Tomlin, wanted to get out to a fast start by being physical, like normal, and running the ball behind their young, but improving offense live, and feeding the ball to Rashard Mendenhall. It proved to be a good game plan, as back up veteran Charlie Batch stepped in and got Pittsburgh wins versus three of four opponents. They established a rhythm during those four games, and got comfortable in it.
However, when Ben plays for the first time this year, the entire offense will need to regulate to a different style of game. Roethlisberger can do a number of things that Batch and Byron Leftwich can not. Ben has perhaps the best pump fake in the league; it can be an invaluable tool to puzzle defensive backs, but it can work the opposite way around. He is also more mobile, and has a stronger arm. The receiver will be catching passes with more zip on them, and will have to create space for themselves when Ben runs on broken pass plays. Ben likes to be in total control of the offense, whereas Charlie Batch just goes with the plays that are called and goes to work.
Forget about the Steeler’s defense, we already know what they can do. Troy Polumalu, James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and company anchor a defense that doesn’t struggle against anything and has no weakness. An offense such as the Browns that could potentially be lead by rookie Colt McCoy, making his would be first start of the year on top of that, wouldn’t stand a chance.
But on offense, the Steelers have some work to do in practice. Ben Roethlisberger has some old friends to catch up with; mainly, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mike Wallace. Even in years past, Roethlisberger may not have had the same kind of relationship with his targets as say Peyton Manning with Marvin Harrison, but this season, Ben does not have one key element in his tool box; one key element that seemed to be there for him whenever the Steelers needed to pull a rabbit out of their helmets for a close win.
Big Ben is missing one key weapon in his arsenal that ended up winning the Steelers SuperBowl XLIII over the Arizona Cardinals. A guy by the name of Santonio Holmes. He too is coming off of a suspension and will make his 2010 season debut as a member of the New York Jets.
But Roethlisberger and the Steelers have more then enough toys to compete with anyone in the league. Despite the Raven’s 4-1 start, the Steelers, with what they’ve got right now, may still be the team to beat in the AFC North; potentially the team to beat in the NFL.