Dejan Kovacevic wrote in his column today that the Steelers should play Ben Roethlisberger these final two weeks of the season.
Now, Kovacevic is no joke. He knows what he’s talking about in every sport and I agree with him close to 100% of the time. This is one of the times I don’t.
He’s right about a few things, of course. There is a case to start Ben despite his high ankle sprain. The Steelers aren’t exactly such a dominant force in pro football right now that they can expect to take two weeks off and jump in without incident in wildcard weekend. And of course, Ben wouldn’t be in as much danger if the Steelers were to incorporate a QB-friendly, quick-pass offense. It isn’t like the Rams defense is that threatening. And they can still lean on the running game, right?
Here’s the problem. The Steelers have all but clinched the #5 seed. Even if they win out, it remains likely that the Ravens will do the same and finish with the top seed in the AFC. Yeah, they have a Week 17 tilt in Cincinnati, they haven’t done as well on the road, and Cincy will be fighting for their playoff lives. But the Ravens will be fighting to keep the Steelers from that coveted AFC North title, and we know the Ravens can get up to do anything that hurts the Steelers. Jon Harbaugh probably got a Gatorade shower when I started this post.
So the Steelers can pretty much bank on getting the 5-seed and playing the AFC West winner on wildcard weekend. Note that the Denver Tebows are currently leading the AFC West. Playing a first round matchup against a terrible passer and a team with no playoff experience (Well, their running back has been to the playoffs before, but he probably doesn’t remember it) doesn’t really scare me. I hear that Tebow kid is a tough runner. I hear the Steelers aren’t terribly frightened of good running backs. So it’s tough to justify throwing everything you have at the Rams and Browns by saying they’ll be better suited for the playoffs. In fact, I might rather sink to #6 and play Houston if at all possible.
But what about protecting Ben better? If Arians’ gameplan consists of a lot of shotgun passes with lots of receiving targets, Ben should be able to use a quick three-step drop on most passing plays and find a receiver underneath, right?
Raise your hand if you believe for a fraction of a second that that gameplan will stay in effect through four quarters of football. If no one’s open, Ben’s going to hold onto the ball. He’s going to take hits. You can’t play any defense and expect him to be untouched the entire game. The offensive line played an excellent first half against San Francisco and kept Ben totally upright. But once the score got even slightly out of hand, Ben hung around too long and took a bunch of hits.
But that was San Francisco’s defense! They’ve been really good all year and you can’t expect the Rams and Browns to generate that much pressure on Ben!
Wait a sec, who was Ben playing when he got that nasty high ankle sprain? Oh yeah, the Cleveland Browns. A free rush, a big hit, a missed block, they can happen for any team at any time. You’re obviously more likely to get sacked by Terrell Suggs than Scott Paxson, but I don’t recall Suggs injuring Roethlisberger this season.
But Ben is still the most effective quarterback! He threw for a bunch of yards on Monday night!
He did, and every throw he made looked to be all arm. He can’t put weight on his left leg. You know, the leg he has to step on to follow through in his throwing motion. Anyone who has watched Ben play his whole career could see that he wasn’t right Monday night. He’s normally a very accurate passer, but he was throwing interceptions because the ball sailed on him. Because he was throwing off his back foot. Because his left leg can’t support his weight. Those were uncharacteristic mistakes by Ben, and they happened because his throwing motion was hampered.
High ankle sprains take a few weeks to heal. Conveniently, the Steelers have a few weeks before the playoffs begin. The reward does not outweigh the risk of playing Ben Roethlisberger. The next two games aren’t important. The one after them is.