It’s no secret that the body wears down as it ages, and for competitive athletic events, you have a limited shelf life before you physically cannot compete at the same level as those who are in a greater physical condition.
There are quarterbacks right now who are increasingly beginning to play deeper into their late 30s and early 40s than ever before. Much of that has to do with the way the game and the rules have evolved that makes it easier for them to do so. But your skills and physical abilities still diminish over times.
Peyton Manning wasn’t the same player at the end of his career. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are not the same players as they once were. And the great 2004 class is in its twilight now. Eli Manning retired. Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are still slinging the ball, but less consistently, and for how much longer?
Former Pittsburgh Steelers front office executive Doug Whaley recently appears on the Go Long podcast with Tyler Dunne and Jim Monos, and Roethlisberger’s late-stage play was among the things that they discussed, on which he commented at length. Whaley was in the front office when they drafted him.
There’s only a few things that are undefeated in this world, and Father Time is one of them. It’s just Father Time. And then also, if you look at how he played the game, when he was in his prime, he didn’t get Big Ben the nickname for nothing. I mean, he was a beast on the field. He was hard to bring down. He battled. I mean, he just threw his body in the line of fire and had no recourse or remorse about it. But that was the thing that made him excellent at his craft, extending plays, shaking off would-be rushers and would-be sackers, things like that, running and getting that extra yard, lowering the shoulder instead of sliding. But that accumulation of hits, it just takes time. And then also once injuries start, and especially at an advanced age, the frequency continues, and it gets exacerbated because of the age and the number of hits that you you’ve had, and they don’t get less frequent. So it’s one of those things, and I think that’s one of the reasons why, if you look at their offensive scheme, it’s, let’s get this ball out quick. I think it’s like 2.1 seconds, and it’s two things: to protect him from hits, but also to protect him from having to sit back there and try to make those throws that he used to be able to make.
None of this is news to fans who have been watching him for years and noticed the way the offense has evolved. They are trying to make things as easy on Roethlisberger as possible in terms of the passing game—though it would help if they could get a running game to support him. He leads in the NFL in pass attempts in his first year back from elbow surgery.