With the news yesterday that Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ elite passer, has a slight tear is his rotator cuff, I’ve heard a lot of opinions from fans who are either extremely worried or the exact opposite.
The extremely worried have one chief concern: that someone, somewhere will simply rip Roethlisberger’s arm from the socket and end his career. The chances of that actually occurring are slim, but there is something to be said for revealing an injury in the NFL these days. Most of us have heard the tapes from Bountygate. Exploiting injuries is part of the cost of doing business for a defense.
Those who aren’t worried at all take the view that it hasn’t seemed to even slow down the Pittsburgh passer, whose ankle injury caused a much more profound drop in production toward the end of the 2011 season. There’s merit to this school too, but it also may be a little too far to one side.
The truth probably lies in the middle somewhere. Here’s a look at why you both should and shouldn’t worry about Roethlisberger’s injury.
Laughing Things Off
While Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger himself didn’t exactly guffaw at suggestions that this injury was something to worry about, you could feel the lack of concern from both men. Neither seemed to be very worried about any potential consequences.
When the guy throwing with the damage says he’s fine, you have to wonder a little. Looking at everything we’ve seen from the end of the Ravens game to his ankle injury and then everything from the offseason program and early camp, Roethlisberger looks just fine.
Tomlin showed no concern over it. If he had been worried, he probably wouldn’t have allowed the information to be released by anyone but himself. Tomlin isn’t the controlling sort, but something major wouldn’t have slipped past his regular press briefings.
If you want the biggest reason I wouldn’t worry too much about Roethlisberger’s arm, it’s because I don’t think he’ll take as many hits as he did in 2011 and previous years. For one, Todd Haley will probably be the first coach to try to train out of him the tendency to take a sack before throwing away the ball.
For another, this offensive line has the potential to be a top-shelf unit, something the Steelers haven’t had since Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings were running things in the trenches. The additions of David DeCastro (RG) and Mike Adams (LT) should help solidify a young unit that is now set up to compete with the best defensive fronts in the conference.
But Those Pesky Defenders!
Okay, I’ll give a tip of the hat to some of the people worried here. This isn’t a friendly game. The conference Pittsburgh plays in is full of guys who are tough hitters and vicious players. Bart Scott, Ray Lewis, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Mario Williams, Tamba Hali and others all are excellent at their craft.
Fortunately, two of the more vicious guys on that list play for the Steelers. Unfortunately, several don’t. Roethlisberger does hold onto the ball to let a play develop. It’s a foregone conclusion that he will take an unnecessary hit (or 20) this season. Does a player go for the arm in a situation like that?
It’s possible. While I don’t think anyone in the league is running a bounty program anymore (if anyone besides New Orleans did in the last few years), there are players who keep track of injuries and try to exploit them.
The problem with this theory is that, without really and obviously trying to injure a player in a specific way, it would be very hard to tear a rotator cuff completely on a sack or even a late hit. Any such action would likely bring down Roger Goodell in all of his protecting-the-shield glory.
In short, while a guy may take a little extra effort in thinking how he hits Roethlisberger, at game speed there isn’t likely to be much of a serious risk that someone will go after the arm specifically.
This IS Roethlisbeger We’re Talking About
Let’s not forget this is the guy who’s played on a bum ankle, with a broken nose and with just about every other possible injury short of something that would forcibly end his season.
Trying to injure a player like that is likely a losing bargain. Roethlisberger steps aside or out of tackles easier than almost any quarterback this side of Michael Vick. Roethlisberger is more sturdily built than Vick, too. Anyone hitting him high in the past will also tell you it isn’t likely to bring him down. You have to take him low or in the middle if you’ve got any chance of a sack.
The fact that no one evidently considered surgery or rest as an option during last year or all through the offseason program tells me that this is probably getting more attention than it deserves. While you never want to hear a rotator cuff injury is happening to your starting quarterback (ask any team that’s had Chad Pennington on their roster about that), this doesn’t sound like anything to get fussed over.
In the end, it’s one more thing that will probably become part of the Roethlisberger lore. Instead of “Look what he did with a broken nose,” this year we’ll be awed by what he did with a small tear in his rotator cuff. That will be uttered by someone when he throws the first long bomb to Antonio Brown.