Ben's ascension to Bradshaw status

Roethlisberger had a solid game against the Jets last season, but can he put up numbers in the manner his fans hope for this year? - Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Big Ben Must Ascend is the tagline for the 2013 season. Is Roethlisberger ready to make the step forward in his 10th season that Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw did more than 30 years ago?

This season marks Ben Roethlisberger’s 10th season in the NFL. Every football fans knows his reputation as the franchise QB of a team that consistently competes for the playoffs.

There is a constant debate of Roethlisberger’s place among the opinionated power rankings of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. Fans of No. 7 often cite to his clutch play throughout the 2008 Super Bowl run that got him his second ring; while dissenters quickly point to his performance in Superbowl XL, his not-so-elite passing statistics and the perennial mid-range ranking of the Pittsburgh offense.

Roethlisberger can quickly take over a game, but he leaves points on the field with squandered opportunities against lesser talented teams. He has missed recent chances to put teams away late in games, like two losses this past year against Dallas and Cincinnati.

Every year Roethlisberger does something to further impress fans with either his strong arm or creative play on the field. However we can fairly wonder if Roethlisberger has hit his ultimate potential, entering his 10th year in the league. The 2013 season may be one of his last that fans can say he’s in his prime.

Roethlisberger's only rival (if he has one), Terry Bradshaw, did not fully develop into a lethal quarterback of consistent performance until his ninth year in the NFL - the 1978 NFL season. The Steelers’ passing attack ascended to the ranks of the best in the league from consistent success and production from Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and company.

From that season on, No. 12 was able to command the team down the field with much more proficiency than he had in the past and called his own plays.

Roethlisberger probably will not call all his plays as Bradshaw did, but there are certainly parallels that can provide hope to the Pittsburgh faithful that a similar ascension is in store for Big Ben.

For one, both were at a similar stage in their football careers: Bradshaw was in his ninth season, Roethlisberger is in his 10th; both had won two Super Bowls; with the Steelers’ several early offensive line draft picks Ben may finally get the protection—and supplemental ground game—that No. 12 enjoyed behind Mike Webster and crew.

Also, both quarterbacks can say they had experienced, athletic and dangerous weapons at wide receiver that came from the same draft. Whereas neither Antonio Brown nor Emmanuel Sanders have achieved the respect that Swann and Stallworth have with their accomplishments, there is certainly potential in a highly efficient offense for growth in their results and reputation.

The point here is that where Bradshaw moved from recognition as a good QB to being a great one, Roethlisberger must now do the same. Otherwise all his naysayers may have a more arguable point that maybe he does not deserve the respect of a top three or even a top five quarterback.

Roethlisberger must continue to improve his cerebral play and ability to read the defense pre-snap. The world saw a glimpse of this increased potential early last year before he was on the wrong end of a Tamba Hali and Justin Houston dual hit. With a stronger line, the prospect of an effective running game for the first time in multiple years and another year to marinate in Haley’s offensive schematics, there is a hope that Roethlisberger may show us what his ultimate potential really is. Considering that he’s already a feared threat to opposing defenses and commands the respect of elite defenders such as Haloti Ngata, it’s kind of scary to imagine just how much more he can frustrate defenses.

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