You know what my favorite thing was about the Steelers 52-21 victory over the Panthers at Heinz Field on Thursday night?
It wasn’t the 52 points. It wasn’t the blow-out. It wasn’t the perfect passer-rating posted by the future Hall of Fame passer. It wasn’t the five touchdown passes he recorded. It wasn’t the five sacks put on Cam Newton. It wasn’t Vince Williams’ pick-six. It wasn’t JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 75-yard touchdown. It wasn’t the savvy veteran tricks receiver Antonio Brown used on the young Panthers’ cornerback while getting separation on his 53-yard touchdown catch. It wasn’t even Rosie Nix’s forced fumble on a kickoff return.
No, my favorite part of Thursday’s very enjoyable victory was the 18-yard run by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger late in the third quarter. And, no, it wasn’t because Carolina safety Eric Reid got bull-rushed by the offensive line and then ejected by the referee following his hit to a sliding Roethlisberger’s head at the tail-end of the run.
So why did I love Roethlisberger’s run so much? Why did I get up and scream “Go Ben!” the second he eclipsed the 20-yard line and it looked like he was in the clear and on his way to a touchdown? Why would that touchdown have caused me to get evicted from my apartment for excessive noise at 11 p.m. (or, at the very least, earned me a visit from one of my neighbors, a la Mr. Heckles on Friends)?
Because there’s just something about Roethlisberger, the man they call Big Ben thanks to his 6’5”, 240lb frame, running.
And, no, I don’t mean his signature scrambling around in the pocket and making big men miss before making smaller men cry after losing track of their assignments downfield (that’s Hall of Fame-level special).
I just get a kick out of it on a level once reserved for the 2004-2005 Jerome Bettis years, when the rounder than ever running back would bust out a rare run longer than 10 or 15 yards.
There’s no question Roethlisberger has always been a great athlete, and when he does get to full speed, you can certainly see that. However, like your average commercial airplane, he needs a little bit of runway to get going. And while there is something magical and fluid about the way he avoids defenders in and around the pocket, there’s a bit of a lumber to the moves he puts on defenders in the open field. He seems to have to stop and gather himself for a second before switching directions.
And I just love the way he pumps his arms, as if he knows he needs every piston working hard in-order to keep his big frame moving as fast as it can. Again, the athleticism is apparent in his runs, but so is the “big” in Big Ben.
Speaking of size, Roethlisberger came into this season looking lighter and fitter than ever. Many joked and even seriously speculated that the 15-year veteran was motivated by the Steelers’ decision to select Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Maybe. Maybe not. But he is off to one of his best starts in years, statistically. This includes rushing yards; with 75 yards on the ground through nine games, Roethlisberger is well-on his way to having his best season running the ball since he put up 99 in 2013.
Roethlisberger is enjoying great pass protection in 2018, which has undoubtedly led to greater health (knock on wood). He also appears to be the beneficiary of greater freedom thanks to new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, a man who doesn’t seem to mind his big quarterback doing things with his legs.
Yes, that includes the return of the quarterback sneak. But “Running Ben” has also made a comeback in 2018, and it’s been a great sight to see.