Pittsburgh Steelers: Why the Time Is Right for Ben Roethlisberger to Return

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 18 : Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers yells to his teammates during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens on November 18, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

A healthy Pittsburgh Steelers team should be one of the most dangerous in the AFC, and they are getting their big cog back this week as Ben Roethlisberger will be back under center.

Mike Tomlin announced after practice on Thursday that Roethlisberger would be starting against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday (via Steelers.com).

“He has been above the line in all areas,” said Tomlin. “Really, the only question we can’t answer is taking a hit. Obviously that will be answered in the stadium on Sunday.

And there could be no better time for Roethlisberger’s return.

The Steelers have the inside track on the sixth seed in the AFC and they cannot afford to slip up over the final four games—including a potential playoff-deciding Week 16 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

While Charlie Batch played well—particularly in last week’s upset win over the Baltimore Ravens—Pittsburgh needs to put its best lineup on the field for the remainder of its games and that includes starting Roethlisberger.

It could be argued that Tomlin is bringing Roethlisberger back too soon and that would be a valid concern—just look at last year.

Roethlisberger came back from an ankle injury too early and was not the same quarterback that he was prior to the injury.

In his first game back against the San Francisco 49ers, Roethlisberger completed only 56.8 percent of his passes and had three interceptions.

He was not much better two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns as he completed only 57.5 percent of his passes and was even worse in the playoff loss to the Denver Broncos with only 55 percent of his passes completed.

Pittsburgh lost two of three games post-Roethlisberger’s injury—something it cannot afford this year.

But the coaching staff has to trust him when he says he is ready to go. Beyond saying that he is ready, Roethlisberger demonstrated that he was ready to go after Thursday’s practice, according to offensive coordinator Todd Haley (via Steelers.com).

“He looked good. I don’t think there were any setbacks, so I think it was a positive day,” Haley said.

Haley added that he didn’t notice any “major limitations” and that he was moving around “pretty well.”

If Roethlisberger says he’s good to go and the coaches agree, that is good enough for me.

However, even if he is ready to play, Roethlisberger has not played well in his first game off of an injury.

Over the course of his career, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley reported that Roethlisberger has completed 61.1 percent of his passes for an average of 173.2 yards per game with five touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating over these games has only been 73.9.

Given his history, Roethlisberger will struggle on Sunday and that could be bad news for the Steelers as a loss would be a setback in the team’s push for a playoff spot.

However, would you rather Roethlisberger struggle against a Chargers team that just fired its head coach or against a Dallas Cowboys team on the road, or against the Bengals in a game that could decide the final playoff spot in the AFC?

The choice was easy for Roethlisberger to start this week. The Steelers are playing at home against a 4-8 Chargers team that has to fly across the country for a 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff.

Even if Roethlisberger struggles, they should still have enough to get by the Chargers.

Haley can lean on Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to help carry the offense and keep the pressure off of Roethlisberger.

But even if he does have to throw the ball more than what the Steelers would like, the short passing game that Haley has implemented is perfect to keep Roethlisberger on his feet.

Heath Miller, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will provide Roethlisberger with a number of options to hit on safe, short routes so that he does not have to put too much strain on his recovering ribs and shoulder throwing the deep ball.

Regardless of how he plays, the Steelers just need to come out of Sunday’s game with a win and provide Roethlisberger with an opportunity to knock the rust off.

That will set him up for big games against the Cowboys and Bengals that could help the Steelers lock up a playoff spot.

Roethlisberger’s return could not have come at a more perfect time to get him ready for a final playoff push.

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