Ben Roethlisberger will play through pectoral discomfort this week as he and Pittsburgh's slumping offense try to get going against the Bengals. But the former All-Pro has continued to look old and near the end, according to several execs who have broken down his film, and concern is mounting within the organization as well given the limitations of this offense thus far.
Roethlisberger's play rapidly deteriorated a year ago, falling off markedly in the second half as the Steelers went from the league's lone unbeaten team to one that stumbled into the postseason and then got smacked by the Browns in the Wild-Card round. The Steelers had no semblance of a downfield passing game, Roethlisberger was getting rid of the ball faster than anyone in the NFL, and Pittsburgh had the NFL's worst rushing attack as well.
Those problems have persisted through two weeks, and though new offensive coordinator Matt Canada is keeping the team more balanced in play selection and introducing new concepts, Roethlisberger's lack of mobility at age 39 is playing a major role in the handcuffing of the offense as well in the eyes of many who have watched closely.
"This looks like what I saw last December," said one AFC exec who has kept a close eye on the Steelers. "He isn't any better, and he's getting hit all the time now, too. That's a problem."
Another exec offered: "The ball gets out in two seconds, or he gets hit. And he can't shake 'em off like he used to. I don't think they can get him through the season like this."
Even Roethlisberger's most staunch supporters within the Steelers' organization have privately raised some concern, as the future Hall of Fame quarterback has dealt with injury issues for several years now, and his productivity has been waning for quite some time. Roethlisberger, who took a considerable paycut to remain with the Steelers for 2021, is also lacking anything close to the supporting cast he enjoyed during his peak years.
He has two touchdowns and one interception through two weeks, and is again near the bottom of the NFL in yards per attempt (6.71, 25th in the NFL). He has been hit 15 times already through two games, and some who watched him in practice this week could tell he was not 100% and is gutting things out for the team. With an expanded 17-game schedule this season, and the AFC North shaping up as a tough division, the odds of Roethlisberger scripting a fairy-tale conclusion to his storied career appear bleak.
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