It’s Here: Post-Bye Ben Week

It’s here. Finally. Ben Roethlisberger, reinvented, has returned from exile and, sorta like Steve Austin, he’s “better, stronger, faster.”

And it’s not one of those things where we’re hoping Big Ben is the player he was before he was banished to the Western Pennsylvania suburbs for a month. I feel safe in saying that we all know he’s going to go off on the Browns like he’s Old Ben taking over a college bar. Too much? Maybe. But you get what I’m saying: Roethlisberger is cockroach-in-a-nuclear-blast resilient.

Unlike, say, Kordell, Big Ben isn’t distracted by the non-football-related noise. You could tell when Kordell was about to be overwhelmed by the situation. And it always ended badly. A non-Steelers example: Carson Palmer. That guy screams “I’M ABOUT TO FAIL SO EVERYBODY WATCH OUT!” We can blame his tailspin past mediocrity and into “historically awful Bengals QB” territory on getting Kimo’d, or the elbow injury from a few years ago, but whatever, the point remains: the guy is about as clutch as 2010 Jeff Reed.

Meanwhile, people have sometimes mistaken Ben’s laser focus for being dumb. Early in his career I was guilty of this. The rumors of half-field reads and a pared-down playbook during his rookie season, his alleged shitty work ethic, not to mention the weird stories of Ben’s broken toes following the 2004 playoffs (which Bill Cowher promptly refuted) didn’t help. You don’t find Peyton Manning in such circumstances. But here’s the deal: Ben’s not an idiot, at least not on the field. And of all the things we may not like about Ben the Human, Ben the Football Player is second-most important person on the Steelers roster (after Troy, feel free to argue) and one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

What might appear on the surface as stupid is actually Ben’s unique ability to compartmentalize the unimportant stuff. I suppose there’s a tipping point — if you’re Tiger Woods it’s double-digit mistresses and a nine-figure divorce settlement. But Roethlisberger never got that far, thankfully, and after four weeks of introspection and private workouts with his quarterbacks coach, Ben seems to agree with the rest of us: he was kind of a dick and he wants to change. But more than that, he missed football and spent his time away from the team getting better.

Look, we’re not talking about Kyle Boller working on his mechanics, or Alex Smith laying on his therapist’s couch getting mentally tough. This is a guy with two Super Bowl rings coming off the best season of his then-six-year career. And now, there’s a pretty good chance he’s better.

Before the season, I wrote about what we could expect from Roethlisberger when he assumed the starting duties. The news was encouraging. We’re intimately familiar with post-injury Big Ben, particularly the one we saw the first half of the 2006 season. But for the first time ever, the Steelers enter Week 6 and Ben hasn’t taken one hit. In fact, he’s the healthiest guy on the roster. Here’s what I said back on Sept. 1:

Unlike previous missed starts, though, this time is different. Ben’s on the sidelines for reasons wholly unrelated to injuries. … So perhaps the bounce-back period won’t be one game [which historically had been the case], but something much less than that. …

So, yes, there are plenty of questions about the quarterback position for the immediate future. But if some combination of Byron, Dennis and Chaz can keep the duct tape on the offense in September, the Steelers — as Peter King boldly predicts in SI (thanks, Eddie Mush!) — are Super Bowl contenders. (Okay, I’m not willing to go that far, but if Pittsburgh can squeak out a 2-2 start, then I’m riding shotgun on the playoff bandwagon.)

Pittsburgh easily cleared that last hurdle; 3-1 with a last-second loss to the Ravens. And as commenter Easy Like Sunday Morning noted in today’s daily thread, “The teams we’ve played so far are 14-5 (1-3 vs. us, 13-2 vs. the rest of their opponents). That’s 11 games over .500. By contrast, our 12 remaining opponents are 11 games under .500 at 23-34. Of those future opponents, 5 teams are at least .500 and have a 15-7 record. The other 7 are an awful 8-27. The bottom feeders include BUF and CAR, both 0-5, and CLE (twice) who have played better but are still 1-4.”

Now Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback is back under center and an offense that was nonexistent for three of the first four weeks of 2010 should pick up where it left off in 2009. Or — and I can’t believe I’m about to write this — be even more balanced.

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  • Lol

    So will you guys do a little Big Ben is back Podcast or will the next one be the Browns Preview?

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      I think we’re going to try to squeeze to in this week.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    “.. or Alex Smith laying on his therapist’s couch getting mentally tough”…

    Or Alex Smith going to ER to get his hands enlarged…did you saw last nights fumble that killed the 49ers?…unbelievable…anyway, I think we can expect a great season going forward…just remeber kids, we ARE NOT going to be 15-1…so, enjoy the ride…as per next sunday against the Browns…well, I liked how they kept the Falcons close…they are not that bad…our main areas of concern should be how to react to an aggressive defensive scheme and how to game-plan against Cribbs…

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      Oh god, I totally forgot about the child-like hands. Thing is — and I was thinking about this while watching the SNF game — I actually like Alex Smith. Not sure why. But he’s had 47 OCs since 2005 and I’d like to think that has something to do with his struggles. Or maybe it’s the hands. Part of me thinks that he could end up somewhere else and have a Drew Brees-type resurgence. Not necessarily at that level, but something more than what he’s shown in San Francisco.

      • matt

        I think Alex Smith is not a winner in the NFL. The niners have kept him around mostly because of his contract. His teaser games that make you think he’s good, usually come against bad teams or in garbage time.

        So does Cincy have a future starter on their team? Cuz like, Palmer has to be gone after this year right?

      • FW

        Alex Smith was really annoying as that small hands guy in the Burger King commercials, too.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Ryan, thanks for the shout out. Alex Smith seems to be from a certain breed of QB: physically talented / athletic, part of a terrible team but with enough pieces you think they might pull it together this year (making it hard for his team to cut the cord), can’t carry a bad team but you can picture him having regular season success if on on a good team, unclear if they care enough or are a strong enough personality to be a great leader or win in the playoffs.  In terms of similar types but very different results, this could describe both Tony Romo and David Carr, too.

    And while he different type of player, it also makes me think of Kordell.  As much as I’ve defended him over the years for his contributions to the Steelers, it is hard to overlook how much and how quickly he declined after he left.  There’s a certain fortitude that guys like Ben and Donovan McNabb have that Kordell didn’t. That I think, more than a couple of INTs, is the reason he didn’t reach his potential.

  • Anonymous

    If the Browns are stuck without a viable quarterback, maybe they’ll sign Jeff Garcia again. They may not have any of the guys he played with anymore, but he will recognize the uniforms and helmets.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    Matt,

    I wonder if Carson is in rehab or something and Jordan’s actually pretending to be him. Because whoever’s wearing No. 9 is dreadful. If I’m Carson I’m telling people Jordan stole my jersey.

  • FW

    Ben had 4328 passing yards in 15 games last year, or ~288 per tilt.

    Assuming he picks up where he left off and the sched is as favorable as ELSM projects, that translates to 3462 passing yards for the remaining 12 games of the season. So, QOTD: over or under 3462?

    (O/U 21 TDs; 10 INTs; 40 sacks?)

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    FW, I’ll take the under, because of the easy schedule. With 4 games against teams with a combined 2-18 record, we should be able to get out to some early leads and then run the ball. Another plus is that with 4 games of and an easy schedule.

    Ben could enter the postseason with half as many hits on him compared to most seasons.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    That should have read, “With 4 games off and an easy schedule, Ben…” Time to fire my editorial assistant.