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Top 5 Surprises for 2007 Steelers: #1 - Ben Roethlisberger

The end of my faux lists. What a season for Big Ben. Just a year removed from a slew of medical and injury issues, not to mention 23 INTs, Roethisberger responded in a huge way in '07.

32 TDs, 11 INTs, the 2nd best rating in the league at 104.1. All very impressive numbers from Roeth, who supposedly quarterbacks a team that's a smash-mouth team. Well, we're not a smash-mouth, overly physical team right now, and we won't be next year either, even if we do get some immediate help along the line. The team can improve how physical it plays next year (Stapleton, Colon and Capizzi all could make significant strides with another year of strength and conditioning work), but in the immediate future, this team will still largely be a passing-oriented offense that relies on quick-hitting timing plays in the passing game. That means Big Ben should have ample opportunity to prove to the rest of the league and its fanbase that he's one of the elite passing QBs in this game.

It's hard to say just how bad we would have been, or how many games we would have lost if Roethlisberger didn't play such outstanding football this year. It's also a bit tricky gauging just how good our offense is because of his ability to avoid pass rushers and shake-off would be tackles in the backfield. If even 1/4 or 1/3 of Ben's magical escapes this year had gone for sacks, what would have happened to our offense? We know sacks are drive killers, so how many points would we have lost over the course of the season?

I ask because if Ben is to be the future of our franchise and the centerpeice of our offense, which he will soon ofically be once a long-term extension is agreed upon, we'll have to eventually win games without him being able to do some of the incredible things he does in the pocket at age 25. Not right away mind you, but Roethlisberger simply can not be expected to take that kind of beating and make those types of plays as he slows down just a step and becomes a bit more of a true pocket-passer.

That starts with getting him some superior pass protection from his offensive line. But it will also require Big Ben to continue working his butt off in the film room and practice field learning which throws to make and when. Ben is more than capable, but he's not quite there yet, which is totally acceptable and understandable when you take just one nanosecond to remember he's only 25.

I was impressed this year though, and not just by his escapability. I was impressed by his accuracy. I was impressed by his decision-making for the most part. 11 INTs in 15 games is impressive and a remarkable improvement from last year, no matter how you slice it up. And I was impressed with his leadership. It was a bit comical listening to him stand up for his offensive line throughout the year, but what can you say, he's just being a good teamate.

Steelers fans got a big taste of what this kid can do for the Steelers in the next 5-10 years. Over the course of the next 2-3 years, I have a hard time envisioning any scenario (barring injury of course), where Roethlisberger doesn't cement his status as one of the perenially great QBs in this sometimes incomprehensibly talented league.