Much to no one’s surprise, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be held out for a second straight week. Going by recent exhibition season trends, you can expect Roethlisberger to play a few series next week in the all-important dress rehearsal third preseason game and no series at all a few days later in the fourth.
The question comes up every preseason: should Steelers starters—specifically, Roethlisberger—play more as a means to get ready for the regular season?
The answer to that is, absolutely. That’s especially the case for the franchise quarterback. Purely from a rhythm and “iron sharpens iron” standpoint, how could Roethlisberger not benefit from more preseason action?
There is only one answer to that question, but that answer is only truly safe in a perfect world, a world where very important players never get injured.
I remember where I was that day four Septembers ago when Roethlisberger lay prone on the turf of then Edward Jones Dome as Pittsburgh battled the then St. Louis Rams in a Week 3 match-up in 2015.
I was at a sports bar in Chicago with my uncle and his buddy; we were just taking in some NFL action as we prepared for a fun night at Wrigley Field where the Pirates would take on the Cubs in a preview of the National League Wildcard Game.
Late in the third quarter, Roethlisberger was hit just below the knee during a sack by then Rams safety, now Steelers linebacker Mark Barron. Roethlisberger was in great pain instantly, and a hush fell over the crowd—at least the small Pittsburgh trio that consisted of my uncle, his buddy and me.
I’m sure Steeler Nation was holding its collective breath as Roethlisberger was carted off the field with what later was diagnosed as a sprained MCL and bone bruise.
It wasn’t a season-ending injury, and Roethlisberger was back a month later. But it could have been so much worse. Of course, it could ALWAYS be so much worse. As the saying goes in football, you’re always one play away from a season/career-ending injury.
If that’s the case, if you can just as easily suffer a traumatic injury in Week 3 as you can in the preseason, why not roll the dice and just sharpen that iron during some August football?
Because it’s just not necessary. What would you rather have to start the season, Rusty Ben or Booted Ben? Erratic Ben or Big Bruised Ben?
I think it’s an easy answer. There’s always time during the regular season to improve on one’s accuracy, but there’s never enough time to come back from a torn ACL. Even if it’s a less significant injury that forces a player to miss a few games, there’s not always enough time to come back from that. Take the aforementioned 2015 season, for example. The Steelers were 2-2 during Roethlisberger’s absence, as Michael Vick and Landry Jones took turns filling in for him. Pittsburgh ultimately finished 10-6 and needed help from Rex Ryan and the Bills just to sneak into the playoffs as a sixth seed.
Bottom line, you can always get by and remain competent with just about any player on your roster...with the exception of your future Hall of Fame franchise quarterback. If he goes down, the integrity of your team suffers greatly, and it’s often reduced to the proverbial shell of its former self.
A month from now, while you’re possibly lamenting some early-season rust from Roethlisberger, just remember it could always be worse. You could be ruing the extra time he played in the preseason.