The offensive line might be the biggest question mark surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers entering the 2021 season, but the most polarizing question relates to 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Now almost two years removed from major reconstructive elbow surgery, will he be better than he was in 2020, when he led the Steelers to an 11-0 start before his play declined precipitously and the Steelers staggered to a 12-5 finish? Or was the end of last season the leading edge in terms of what Pittsburgh fans are going to see in 2021?
Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, now an ESPN NFL Insider, strongly believes it will be the latter. On Thursday he appeared on ESPN’s Get Up, and was unequivocal in terms of what he expects from Big Ben this season.
“[Ben Roethlisberger] is going to be bad, and I expect him to be benched by the middle of the season,” said Tannenbaum, arguing that veteran losses on the offensive line (including the retirement of perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey) are going to be a contributing factor.
“He is going to make sure he is protecting himself and getting rid of the ball and when that happens it’s really hard to score points in this league because now you have 11 defensive players closer to the line of scrimmage…. They are paying Ben Roethlisberger for what he used to do, not for what he is going to do in the future. He’s had a great career. It’s over.”
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Big Ben Has Had Over 220 Visits with Doctors and Surgeons?
Certainly, father time is working against Ben Roethlisberger, as is his extensive injury history. In the four-part documentary mini-series Bigger Than Ben (2020), which chronicles Roethlisberger’s recovery from the season-ending elbow surgery he had in 2019, Steelers team physician/orthopedic surgeon Dr. James P. Bradley highlights how Roethlisberger has experienced “over 220 visits of some sort” during the course of his 18-year NFL career. Bradley doesn’t get specific in terms of what he means by a “visit,” but he appears to be referring to all the times Big Ben had to consult with doctors and surgeons due to injury.
Roethlisberger Could Become the Most-Sacked QB in History in 2021
Never mind that Roethlisberger is in a race with Tom Brady to see who will finish his career with the most sacks absorbed all-time. Both are poised to eclipse Brett Favre this season, who is the current NFL career leader, having been sacked 525 times over the course of 20 seasons. To date, Roethlisberger has taken 516 sacks, tied for third all-time with Hall of Famer John Elway and just behind Brady, who has been sacked 521 times.
With all that in mind, is it a surprise that the first half of January’s playoff loss against the Cleveland Browns looked eerily like Dan Marino’s last NFL game?
On the other hand, Roethlisberger still has his share of steadfast believers. On Wednesday’s edition of Tiki + Tierney [CBS Sports Network] former NFL running back Tiki Barber predicted that the Steelers will reach double-digit wins in 2021 and that Roethlisberger will be the catalyst for the team’s success.
In fact, Barber believes that Big Ben has “a couple of gas seasons” left before his career is “over.”
“I think he carries this team to 12 wins again,” concluded Barber.
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