When the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0) take the field against Washington (4-7) on Monday, they may do so without the services of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is listed as ‘questionable’ on the team’s injury report with a knee issue.
If Roethlisberger isn’t ready to play, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will presumably turn to backup Mason Rudolph. However, it should be noted that when Roethlisberger was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list prior to the November 15th home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tomlin was anything but unequivocal about who might fill in for Big Ben.
“We’re going to work both young quarterbacks this week,” said Tomlin during his virtual press conference on November 10th, referring to Mason Rudolph and third-stringer Josh Dobbs. “Mason is going to get the bulk of the work—that’s the position that he’s in. But we’ll play it by ear as we proceed through the week. I’m not opposed to playing anyone that increases our chances of winning based on what we are looking at.”
As it turns out, Roethlisberger came off the Reserve/COVID-19 list in time to lead the Steelers to a 36-10 victory, throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns in the process, which prompted him to half-jokingly suggest that he should be permitted to skip all of the team’s practices the following week.
The Bengals Precedent
Now Steelers fans have to hope that the Bengals game set a precedent of sorts in terms of Roethlisberger starting on Monday. Under Tomlin, players have traditionally needed to participate in the final practice of the week to appear in that week’s game.
But Tomlin didn’t adhere to that rule with Roethlisberger vs. the Bengals, and the lack of practice time didn’t affect his performance. If anything, Roethlisberger’s arm looked better during that game, thanks to the additional time off.
Of course, Roethlisberger didn’t have a knee injury against the Bengals, and he’ll need all the mobility he can muster at the age of 38 against a Washington defensive front that features four first-round draft picks, including 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young. Washington’s defense hasn’t received a lot of attention in the national media because the team has won just four games, but it is No. 4 in the NFL total defense and second to the Steelers in total sacks (41 to 36).
Ben Roethlisberger’s Extended-Term Health
The Steelers also may choose to be conservative and sit Roethlisberger in hopes of preserving his health for the stretch-run and playoffs. After all, the Steelers don’t need to beat Washington to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC. If the Kansas City Chiefs and Steelers both end the week at 11-1, Pittsburgh will remain No. 1 by virtue of having lost to an NFC team.
Of course, falling into a tie with Kansas City would eliminate any margin for error going forward, and the Steelers are scheduled to play three more teams that figure to make the playoffs. That includes Buffalo (8-3) and Cleveland (8-3), with both of those contests coming on the road.
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