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Steelers vs. Jags: Evaluating Ben Roethlisberger

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We're nearly three days removed from the game, so my precise memory of Saturday night's game is becoming a bit murkier, but I still wanted to go back through Big Ben's passing charts and see how he performed.

Roethlisberger came out of the gates on fire, completing 5 of 6 passes on the Steelers opening TD drive. He looked sharp, decisive, and I thought we had a fantastic chance at outscoring Jacksonville if he and the rest of the offense were able to play anywhere near that well for the remainder of the game.

Well, he didn't, at least for the rest of the 1st half. After punting on the ensuing two offensive possesions, the Steelers got the ball back early in the 2nd quarter with the game knotted at 7. I'd like to note that Santonio Holmes had not yet caught a pass yet, and I'll throw it out there that Big Ben was trying to get him involved at all costs. Just my hypothesis, but I thought he forced the ball into a non-existant window where two Jags defenders were in an effort to get his young, big-play WR involved. On the following Steelers possesion, Big Ben must have had visions of the New England game where he found Najeh open deep for a long TD score. Against Jacksonville, he was not as open. Facing a 2nd and 15, Ben tried to get it all back at once, again forcing a pass into tight coverage. If Rashean Matthis, a cornerback, is in the picture, you can't be forcing that ball. If Dookie is running with a LB, perhaps. Not when their best cover corner is lurking. Bad, bad decision by Ben. The type of decision we've not seen much of this year.

Like he's done all year, Roethlisberger responded after adversity later in the first half, leading the Steelers down the field to the Jacksonville 21 yard line with a buck and change remaining on the clock. Then, an errant screen pass is picked off by Derek Landri and we were forced to the locker room down 14. By the way, I hope you enjoyed that game Derek Landri. Your career has officially peaked. The 5th round rookie picked off Big Ben, recorded a sack, and recovered the fumble at the end of the game that iced it.

That was far and away the worst half of football Ben Roethlisberger had played all year. However, there's this QB named Peyton Manning who once struggled mightily in the playoffs. For years in fact. Ben did struggle in the AFC Championship game against NE in 2004, as well as in the SB in 2005, but in general, he's been pretty succesful in postseason play. As was the case for much of 2006, Ben got a bit overzealous and wreckless with the football, a trend I called (dorkily) the 'Superman Syndrome'. For a young QB coming off his best regular season, I can see how Ben might succumb to the temptation to try to do too much. Fortunately, he's so talented and such a competitor that he was able to shake it off and come out in the 2nd half and almost lead a remarkable comeback. However, without those 3 first half mistakes, we're probably in control of the football game, as Jacksonville was struggling to find the same rhythm that they had against us earlier in the year.

It's unfortunate, but as the cliche goes, it's all a process. Ben now has another set of experiences in his backpocket to take with him going forward. It's likely we'll be back in the playoffs next year. And it's also likely that we won't be the favorites to come out of the AFC. That means there will probably be a similar temptation for Big Ben to try to put the team on his shoulders and make plays on his own. Yes, we'll need some of his play-making ability. But hopefully next time, he'll know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Regardless though, I applaud Ben Roethlisberger for an incredible season. From a strictly selfish fan's point of view, watching him play this year was immensely entertaining. He's an incredible talent, and with all the mediocre QBs on the NFL landscape today, we should all feel blessed to have him on our side.