If you read my “Matchups to Watch” piece from yesterday, you know that Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman, Martavis Bryant and the secondary has the spotlight on them in today’s Wild Card showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, when it comes down to an X-factor for this game, I have my eyes locked onto Ben Roethlisberger, who’s had the highest of highs this season, and arguably the lowest of lows of his career.
When it comes to the performance of this high-powered Steelers offense, it rests solely on Roethlisberger’s shoulders. With DeAngelo Williams sitting out today due to an ankle injury, it makes the importance of Roethlisberger’s performance that much more important against the Bengals.
Pittsburgh will need to establish some semblance of a running game with Toussaint and Todman, but this game is going to come down to what damage the Steelers offense can do through the right arm of No. 7.
Earlier in the year there was no doubt in my mind that Roethlisberger would be at — or near — the top of his game each and every week. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this year as he missed a large chunk of time with a knee injury, and then missed a few quarters with a foot injury. With that said, he’s been relatively healthy since the bye week (outside of a self-reported concussion suffered against Seattle.)
The fact that he’s been healthy has made it puzzling as to why he’s in the mist of his worst turnover stretch in quite some time.
Over the last three weeks of the regular season, Roethlisberger threw two interceptions in each game against the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. On top of that, Roethlisberger has thrown at least one interception in 10 of his 12 starts this year.
For the Steelers to have their best chance at beating the Bengals they need Roethlisberger to not turn the ball over. When he hasn’t turned the ball over in the air the Steelers blew out the San Francisco 49ers (43-8) and theIndianapolis Colts (45-10), which just so happened to be two of his best performances of the season.
He’s been very hit-or-miss this year for Pittsburgh, so the outcome of the game really depends on which No. 7 shows up at 8 p.m. tonight against Cincinnati. If it’s the Roethlisberger who showed up in the first matchup against Cincinnati (a 16-10 loss in which he threw three picks) then the Steelers are in serious trouble. If it’s the Roethlisberger who showed up against Indianapolis (four touchdowns) or the second-half version against Denver (three touchdowns, one pick), then the Steelers will be moving on in the AFC Playoffs on their quest for Super Bowl No. 7.