The Pessimist’s Take: Ben Roethlisberger Staying Upright

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Can Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy in 2016 after taking a beating and missing time last season?

No matter who else is on the field, there is no single factor that more acutely predicts offensive success for the Steelers than the presence of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger on the field. One of the game’s legitimately elite quarterbacks today, his skills have elevated the team often to above their abilities otherwise, which is, of course, what elite quarterbacks do.

But Pittsburgh spent a lot of time without its elite quarterback on the field last season, to the tune of around 300 or so snaps, or the equivalent of about 26 percent of the entire year. In all, he missed five starts and four entire games, in addition to stretches in several other games, including the Wildcard victory.

Considering his extensive injury history, it is actually rather impressive, if not remarkable, that Roethlisberger missed just three snaps over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to injury, which also happened to come in the 2014 Wildcard game, to which he also returned, but that time the team lost.

It is true that the Steelers’ offensive line has been on a steady upward trajectory for years now, and 2015 may have been the team’s best season since early in Roethlisberger’s career in terms of pass protection efficiency. It’s also true that they managed to accomplish this without their All-Pro center, which will likely not be the case in 2016.

But it is also true that, in spite of the generally quality protection, he still managed to be injured seriously on at least four occasions, including suffering a sprained MCL and bone bruise, followed by a foot sprain, then a concussion, and finally a shoulder injury that threatened his status for the Divisional round game.

The reasons for most of these injuries, and many of the other hits that he takes over the course of a given season? his penchant for attempting to extend plays, which he has cut down on in recent years. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s part of what makes Roethlisberger special, and for that reason it will never be wholly excised from the Steelers’ playbook.

It’s also for that reason that the Steelers must always operate under the assumption that Roethlisberger is likely to miss some time over the course of a season. Both 2014 and 2015 have been outliers in his career, extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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