It didn’t take Ben Roethlisberger long to make an impact, as he went 5-6 for 43 yards and a touchdown. on his first drive back from injury. He became just the 19th quarterback in history to surpass 40,000 career yards in the process. From there though, it went down hill rather quickly. Ben benefitted early from having the Killer B’s on the field together for the first time this season. Initially it looked to be a prosperous reunion, until Le’Veon Bell went down in the second quarter with a season ending MCL tear. It was the same knee that was hit by Bengals Safety Reggie Nelson, which ended his season last year. The Steelers 16-10 loss left them an even 4-4 on the season, severely hampering any chance theyou had of repeating as AFC North champions. They now trail the 7-0 Bengals by 4 games in the loss column. While the loss of Le’Veon Bell certainly affected the Steelers offensively, the sub-par performance of Ben Roethlisberger is ultimately what did the Steelers in, and it appeared to be more mental than physical in nature.
On the day, Ben was 28/45 for 262 yards, with a touchdown pass and three interceptions. On alot of his incompletions, Ben missed high. One of his interceptions came on a ball he badly overthrew to Antonio Brown, which would have put the Steelers near scoring position. Throughout the day, Ben didn’t seem to have enough confidence, mentally, in his knee to where he could properly step into his throws enough to put them on target. Two of those turnovers resulted in points for the Bengals, which was the difference in the game. Like the leader that Ben is, he took full responsibility for the loss. Following the game, Ben said, “This one is on me, it was just bad football on my part and I apologize.”
Ben Roethlisberger is now 2-5 following his first game back from time on the sideline due to injuries. According to Ben, “It’s no different to me than trying to play the first game of the year after playing preseason.” he continued, “You know it’s different, you have to kind of feel it out and get going. I don’t know too many times first games of the year you’re just clickin’ and hittin’ it and all that stuff. There’s a lot of little things like that involved. There will be rust. There will be nerves. It’s just about trusting in the guys around me, that they’ll play for me if I’m not playing great.” Part of Ben’s issues on Sunday, besides the rust and nerves, was the trust that his knee would hold up when stepping into his throws. It looked like he finally felt more comfortable with that during the final Steelers drive.
Despite the loss to the Bengals, the Steelers still control their own destiny in their hunt to return to the playoffs. They also have a lot more going for them than most of the other teams that are chasing one of the two wildcard spots, and it starts with Ben Roethlisberger. Ben is going to bounce back and find that rhythm that has made him one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. With Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, it’s only a matter of time before he starts lighting up the scoreboard. On the ground, the Steelers are in a good position as well, despite the loss of Le’Veon Bell for the rest of the season. Deangelo Williams, who led the league in rushing while Bell was suspended to start the season, will resume his role as the starting back. Not too many teams have the luxury of having a starting caliber backup running back to turn to, like the Steelers do. Backing up Williams the rest of the way, will be former Rams 2nd round draft pick, Isaiah Pead.
Another reason that the Steelers will make a return trip to the postseason is the continous improvement on defense. What was supposed to be the weak link for the Steelers this season, turned out to be the reason they were able to tread water while Ben was out with his knee injury. Keith Butler has done an amazing job utilizing the size and unique speed of his young players, to create turnovers and get pressure on the quarterback. After eight games, the defense has recorded 22 sacks, 7 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles. Compared to the entire 2014 season, where they registered 33 sacks, 10 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles, this year’s defense has shown marked improvement in the areas they needed to. The biggest remaining issue has been sloppy tackling at times. Although they have given up big chunks yards, they have kept teams off of the scoreboard. As Ben and the offense heats up, and the defense gets to play with more leads, they should become even more dangerous and aggressive.
It’s always disappointing to lose games you should have won, especially to a division rival. It’s even more disappointing when that loss means all but having to concede the division title. With the Steelers, all that means is having to play an extra postseason game to get to where they want to be, playing for Super Bowl number seven. With all of the injuries that the Steelers have dealt with, there is a silver lining, which is more younger players have gotten a chance to step up and produce. Ross Cockrell, Daniel McCullers, Robert Golden and Bud Dupree are examples of guys who have stepped up and have produced more than they were expected to. As the Steelers heal up, that experience will turn into quality depth, which will put the Steelers in a much better position come playoff time. For those who are out on the ledge and ready to jump, as a result of the Steelers 4-4 start, there’s no need for that. This season is far from being over, and the Steelers are far from being finished.