By Tim Benz
It’s Steelers/Ravens: Round 3. So pick your cliché!
“Throw out the records…It’s Armageddon…What else do you need to say…It’ll all come down to turnovers…”
Well, if we threw out the records, they wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship game. It’d be a pre-season game. If it’s Armageddon, then next week’s likely trip to New England becomes a bit anti-climactic, doesn’t it? And if there is nothing else to say, then this would be a pretty short column
So let’s pay attention to the turnover thing. And that’s actually a positive point when it comes to the Steelers, particularly Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steeler quarterback has thrown a meager five interceptions in his twelve starts this year. In fact, his lone pick since November 14th came against these Ravens during their Week 13 match up.
That’s an astonishing one interception in 231 pass attempts. Keep in mind, he’s same guy who threw eight interceptions over a three game stretch as recently as the Super Bowl season of 2008.
Or is he? Is he really the same guy? Or is Ben Roethlisberger a different dude? Perhaps too much has been made by the media this season about Big Ben’s big “personal transformation” this year in the wake of the sexual assault allegation against him in Georgia this past spring. Some in the press would have you believe Ben is completely back to “PFJ” from “DTF.” And that’s probably a bit exaggerated. But Roethlisberger’s efforts to be a more humble, gracious public person have been far more sincere than I expected. And they seem to have carried over to the football field.
Many times over his seven year career, Roethlisberger’s greatest strength has also been his biggest flaw. His never ending desire to keep plays alive with his strength and legs in or out of the pocket often times has lead to dramatic touchdowns. But he has also forced a lot of throws that have lead to unwise interceptions.
This year Ben has managed to dazzle with that “never say die” approach to quarterbacking, without incorporating the risk of ill advised prayers into the middle of the field.
“I’ve just been lucky I guess. I don‘t feel like I‘m playing a different game. Maybe I‘m just making better throws.” says Roethlisberger full of forced self modesty.
But hey, it’s modesty!
And modesty wasn’t a trait Roethlisberger was ever known for on, or off, the field in previous years. Roethlisberger wouldn’t even offer up that demure explanation of his good play without…literally…knocking on the wood of his nearby stall in the Steeler locker room.
In that room, it’s somewhat taboo to suggest a connection between “the new” Roethlisberger as a guy, and “the improved” Roethlisberger as a quarterback. You know, what happens off the field, stays off the field and so forth.
“To me he’s the same old Ben,” says coach Mike Tomlin. “He’s playing extremely well. But he’s the same old Ben.”
Like a lot of what Tomlin says, that sounds good but isn’t entirely true. This isn’t the same old Ben. The same old Ben wouldn’t have spent 15 minutes during a bye week talking with media about everything from his rumored engagement to his lack of interceptions in a relaxed, joking, playful tone. Actually Tomlin himself has frequently stated that Roethlisberger “has demonstrated during the work week a much greater appreciation for the mundane” since his suspension was lifted.
“I don’t really know what that means. Maybe that’s just Mike’s way of elongating an answer as he does so well,” refuted a smiling Roethlisberger.
Clearly what Tomlin means is that Roethlisberger is appreciating the workload needed to be a great quarterback, as well as simply appreciating his own talents. He means Roethlisberger is appreciating the need to study film, practice intently, and hone his skills.
And he probably means Ben has learned when its smart to take a mundane sack, a mundane check down, or throw the ball away in a mundane manner as opposed to trying to be a hero by attempting throw the ball through a brick wall (or the Baltimore defense) with a 310 pound lineman draped around his waist.
“It’s making good decisions,” says teammate Rashard Mendenhall. “He’s just not putting the ball in the vicinity of defenders to make plays. He‘s a great quarterback. He works at his craft.”
Perhaps it is all decision making. Maybe it’s doing more homework. It could simply be better, more accurate throws. Or maybe it is that attitude transformation in life that has carried over into football.
“I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s focus. I think it’s understanding the defense. I think it’s understanding where the offense is going. It’s all of that which goes into making somebody into a better quarterback,” responded Roethlisberger.
Whatever the reason, Roethlisberger is keeping the ball in his hands and refusing to give it to the other team. And that’s a good thing this Saturday. Because usually when Baltimore gets the ball on defense, bad things happen to their opponents; especially when Ed Reed is the one picking off ill-thrown passes. And, as we pointed out at the beginning of this column, it’s “all about the turnovers” or else “it’s Armageddon.”
Or something like that.