The Pittsburgh Steelers are searching for a happy medium. They have a $102 million quarterback, clearly among the top 10 franchise quarterbacks in the NFL. The strength of Ben Roethlisberger is his toughness, ability to shake defenders and uncanny knack to extend and make plays. The weakness of this style of play is the vulnerability to injury. Roethlisberger, sacked 314 times in his regular-season career, limped along with his team into the playoffs last season and exited stage left as an eight-point favorite.
After the one-and-out playoffs, the Steelers sent messages loud and clear, both in words and in actions. The words came from Art Rooney II, who declared that Big Ben needed to tweak his game. The actions spoke even louder when Pittsburgh fired offensive coordinator and Roethlisberger's backyard grill-mate, Bruce Arians. The mandate of all this? Keep Roethlisberger upright as he enters the second half of his career and reduce the number of times his now 30-year-old body gets blasted. Insisting that Ben tweak his game and changing his immediate boss is all fine and well, but management too must put its money where its mouth is.
The Steelers used a staggering 10 different starting lineups on the offensive line last season. Five different guys played tackle and four different guys played guard. While injuries certainly have created much of the team's line turmoil over the last several years, protecting your $102 million franchise quarterback with linemen picked up at a flea market is like Brinks transporting the Hope Diamond in a Ford Fiesta.
Every year prior to the Draft I scream for two things: cornerbacks and offensive linemen. This year I didn't beg for the former. I want to give our developing guys a chance to show their stuff - Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen - before we add to many more guys onto the pile. This year I threw most of my prayers into the O-line basket (with maybe a middle linebacker and nose tackle sprinkled in). Interestingly, a case could be made that the Steelers are more dependent upon a premium offensive line than any other NFL team. No other team has a quarterback like Ben, who skakes defenders, buys time and extends plays.
Perhaps Ben should tweak his game a bit, but at the same time, the Steelers do not want to shackle the unique qualities that Ben brings to the table. The last several years have been a chemical mismatch. The strength of guys like Manning, Brees, Brady and Rodgers is that they don't require much time to run their offense effectively. The strength of Roethlisberger is best displayed when he does have a little time. Obviously no quarterback wants an offensive line held together with duct tape and paper clips, but with Ben, it is kryptonite. Peyton Manning makes a mediocre line look good. Roethlisberger makes a poor line look horrible.
Enter David DeCastro...To be continued...