When people think of the elite quarterbacks in the league, they think of names like Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Stafford. They see 5000 yard seasons and 40+ touchdowns leading explosive offensives with impressive arm strength and pinpoint accuracy.
What often gets overlooked is how poor their own defenses are in the rankings. What do Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford all have in common? Their team defenses are ranked 32nd, 31st, 24th, and 23rd in total defense, respectively. Despite these deficiencies, these four quarterbacks combine to own five Super Bowl rings and three MVP awards. They are the epitome of team leaders.
That is the next step for Ben Roethlisberger.
For decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers have defined championship teams by the strength of their defense. When you ask someone what their first thoughts are when they think of the Steelers -aside from rivalry-fueled vulgarity- the first word is usually defense. The franchise became ignited with a dynastic run in the 1970's, led by the Steel Curtain, arguably the greatest front four linemen to this day. The tradition has carried over the last few decades with the 2008 Steelers winning a league-record sixth ring.
But those days are gone now; at least for this year. The Steelers defense showed signs of aging last year and they haven't looked much younger this year, either. With most of the unit approaching their mid-30's, it's time for the offense to lead the charge and that starts with Roethlisberger.
The Steelers offense has a lot in common with that of Detroit, Green Bay, and New England. Other than the offensive line (which Roethlisberger is responsible for as well) the Steelers have the same weapons as other elite passing teams. They have explosive wide receivers, they have a quarterback with elite-level talent; they just need to put it all together.
If everything clicks on offense for Pittsburgh, they still have a chance to take one more shot at a championship on what has been deemed a closed window. It is certainly a tall order to fill; asking a young offense under a new offensive coordinator to instantly go from 23rd in the league in scoring to top 5 may be asking for a miracle. Also, Roethlisberger has only eclipsed 30 touchdowns once in his career. Nevertheless, if this is Ben Roethlisberger's team, if he is ready to take his career to the next Hall of Fame level, then he needs to be the one to execute the turnaround for the Steelers.
Perhaps Sunday night's game could be the perfect test for Roethlisberger. With Ryan Clark and James Harrison likely to sit out, the defense will have to stop arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Chances are, that won't happen. So, it is on Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to pick up the slack and to lead the team, even if it means winning in a shootout.