CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers calls a play against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
The spotlight is shining brightly on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
And this has nothing to do with technique, or xs and os. His ankle doesn't matter as much as the 18 core Steelers players who have played on two Super Bowl championship teams and three AFC championship teams.
Roethlisberger owes them a gallant performance today.
There is an extremely high probability that 18 could be cut in half by training camp. And Ben is the one guy who likely will be labeled as the main reason why the Steelers win or lose today's AFC Wild Card playoff game.
Steel City Insider publisher Jim Wexell had a tidbit (premium content) about Roethlisberger's perceived "set back" last week against Cleveland. The message Roethlisberger is sending is confusing and pointless.
And as Wexell quoted from a source, it's time for him to be great. If he isn't great today, the gravy train is over.
Without even noticing it, this has become the defining game of the middle of Roethlisberger's career. This team has changed tremendously this season, and it's going to change even more next year. The Steelers have transformed into a passing team, but it isn't a great passing team. It's probably not even a good passing team.
That's unacceptable. Roethlisberger's been given playmakers. They're arguably the best combination of skill position players in the game. You think Drew Brees doesn't drool over the thought of having a receiver with the game-changing ability of Mike Wallace? You think Tom Brady wouldn't love a more athletic, better route-running version of Wes Welker like Antonio Brown? Miller is the best all-around tight end in football - I don't care how many touchdowns anyone else has caught.
This is no longer about the offensive line or playcalling. This is about exactly what Ben wants it to be about; him.
He's had a disappointing season, to put it mildly. I've often defended offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in this space, but in doing that, we've avoided the problem that exists within this team. Roethlisberger isn't throwing well. He hasn't in several weeks, and that was before the injury.
There are way too many talented players on this team for him to have fell brutally short of my prediction of him being a viable MVP candidate this season. Instead, his stats are comparable to rookie Cam Newton, only Newton's are better.
No more toying around in the media, Ben. No more missed opportunities. No more forcing a below average kicker to carry part of your share of the team. You do not have an acceptable excuse to not go out and shred this team in the air. You have clear advantages all over the field; neither corner can cover Wallace and Brown, Miller should catch seven passes on the guys Denver uses to cover tight ends.
This is on you.
This is your game to step up and be the player you're supposed to be. If not, and you lose this game - probably the last for several of your teammates for the last seven seasons - things will change.
Your greatest ally - Arians - will either be reined in tremendously, or he won't be here. There won't be any more "Ben freelancing" and hero-card playing.
Great players accept that challenge, and play to it. Your move, Seven.