About a month or so ago, it certainly seemed as though Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was playing his way into the MVP conversation. During a three-game span, during which the Steelers strung together their sole streak (winning or otherwise) of the season, he threw for 14 touchdowns, 1127 yards, and zero interceptions while completing 88 of 119 passes for a completion percentage of 73.9.
The three games that followed painted a very different picture of the quarterback, even if the yardage total remained comparable. During that span, he more than doubled his interceptions, throwing five of them in comparison to only four touchdowns. All four touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, three in losing efforts with little or no chance of victory. He posted a quarterback rating of under 82 in each of those contests.
The Steelers dropped two of those games against very beatable opponents. It was imperative for a different Ben Roethlisberger to show up in his home state yesterday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Fortunately for the Steelers and the future of their playoff hopes, he did.
Last week, Roethlisberger was intercepted twice, but threw a couple of other passes that could have been intercepted. Though his completion percentage doesn’t necessarily show it, he was more on target against the Bengals, particularly as the game wore on, and that translated into a better performance for the offense.
Roethlisberger attempted 39 passes without being sacked once (one sack was negated by defensive penalty) as the Steelers on the day gave him a more comfortable pocket to work with. His nine yards per pass attempt was his fourth-highest total of the season.
More importantly, he threw three touchdown passes without turning the ball over. That included an easy one-yard roll out to Heath Miller (amazingly, the tight end’s one catch of the game, other than a two-point conversion).
It also included a 10-yard catch and run from Le’Veon Bell, and a 94-yard bomb to rookie Martavis Bryant, who beat the one on one coverage and fielded the ball nearly in stride about 50 yards down the field.
On that last point, Roethlisberger was more successful going vertical this game in general, excluding an early deep ball that was just out of range for Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger, Brown, and the passing game helped the Steelers convert eight of 16 third down opportunities, piling up 350 of the offense’s total of 543 yards. 16 of the Steelers’ 25 first downs came through the air.
While this was a better showing from Roethlisberger, it still wasn’t quite the franchise quarterback at his best. While the Steelers currently find themselves in position to end the regular season with a spot in the playoffs, they still have three games left, including a season finale rematch against the Bengals, and they may need to see even more from Roethlisberger before they can breathe easy.