Cook: Big Ben priceless for run to playoffs
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So how much is Ben Roethlisberger worth to the Steelers?
Seven points, for starters. The Steelers opened as 3 1/2-point favorites before they played the Baltimore Ravens Nov. 18. They became 3 1/2-point underdogs when it was announced Roethlisberger would miss the game with a shoulder/rib injury.
Two games, certainly. The Steelers would have beaten the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns Sunday if Roethlisberger had played. I have no doubt they would be 8-3 instead of 6-5.
The season, perhaps. The Steelers aren't going to catch the Ravens in the AFC North Division race, but they still can make the playoffs as a wild-card team in the lame AFC. It's going to take a healthy Roethlisberger, though. Maybe he doesn't have to play Sunday in Baltimore against the Ravens. But he has to be ready Dec. 9 for the San Diego game at Heinz Field. That's the start of a four-game stretch run that also includes winnable games against the Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Browns.
Roethlisberger's value to the Steelers never has been more apparent.
I've said this many times: The man won't be truly appreciated by Steelers fans until he is gone. It was the same way with four-time Super Bowl-winner Terry Bradshaw. Here are the Steelers quarterbacks who followed Bradshaw's retirement after the 1983 season and preceded Roethlisberger's arrival in 2004: Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Steve Bono, Reggie Collier, Todd Blackledge, Rick Strom, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, Mike Quinn, Pete Gonzalez, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. It could be that way again after Roethlisberger is done. It might be 20 more years before the Steelers find another franchise quarterback.
The Steelers experienced life without Roethlisberger the past 2 1/2 games. No one at team headquarters enjoyed it.
Roethlisberger was injured on the third play of the third quarter Nov. 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Backup Byron Leftwich finished up that game and played in the loss to the Ravens. Third-stringer Batch started against the Browns after Leftwich had two ribs broken against the Ravens.
The Steelers offense has had 33 drives since Roethlisberger was injured. It converted just eight of 34 first downs. It punted 17 times, lost seven fumbles, threw four interceptions and had one possession end on downs. It scored two touchdowns and two field goals, but three of those scoring drives weren't impressive. A field goal against the Chiefs was set up by pass-interference and roughing-the-passer penalties. A touchdown against the Ravens came on an unlikely 31-yard scramble by Leftwich after a 42-yard pass-interference penalty. A touchdown against the Browns came after a 25-yard pass-interference penalty on a third-and-10 play from the Cleveland 26.
Leave it to a wise guy to find a positive in all of the ineptitude. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley came in with a reputation for being combustible on the sideline. If those 2 1/2 games didn't make him lose his cool, nothing will.
In fairness, poor field position hurt the offense. Its average starting point in the second half of the Chiefs game was the 17. In the Ravens game, it was the 19. In the Browns game, it was the 22. That's a reflection of the Steelers defense -- though otherwise tremendous -- not forcing turnovers and giving the offense a short field, although linebacker Lawrence Timmons won the Kansas City game with an interception in overtime and scored on a 53-yard interception return against the Browns. It's a bigger reflection of Steelers mediocre specials-team play.
But the backup quarterbacks didn't get it done. Leftwich's passer rating was 65.5 against the Chiefs and 51.3 against the Ravens. Batch's rating was 38.7 against the Browns, thanks, largely, to three second-half interceptions.
Many have criticized the Steelers for not having better quarterbacks behind Roethlisberger. That's easy to do after the fact. It's also unfair. Before Roethlisberger was hurt, most people thought the Steelers had one of the best backup situations in the NFL. Management made it clear it loved the veteran experience of Leftwich and Batch when it kept Batch over young Jerrod Johnson at the end of the exhibition season.
Now, it's obvious the Steelers need to find two backup quarterbacks in the offseason. One might be Brian Hoyer, who was signed last week. Many will say coach Mike Tomlin should go with Hoyer instead of Batch Sunday against the Ravens if Roethlisberger can't play. I would stick with Batch.
The one thing the Steelers shouldn't do is use a high draft choice on a quarterback in the spring. They are built to win now. Roethlisberger is 30. The team can't worry about finding his replacement five, six, seven years down the road. It needs to surround him with better players to give him a chance to lead the team to a few more Super Bowls.
The Steelers did everything they could to try to keep Roethlisberger healthy. They changed offensive coordinators from Bruce Arians to Haley after last season and installed a short-, quick-pass offense. Roethlisberger took less of a beating in the first 8 1/2 games, but he still was hurt when Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali sacked him and fell on him. It happens. You might have heard pro football is brutal game.
The offense hasn't been the same since Roethlisberger went down.
It won't be the same until Roethlisberger plays again.
You want to know what Roethlisberger is worth to the Steelers?
Forget his $100 million-plus contract.
Roethlisberger is priceless.
First Published November 27, 2012 12:00 am