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Tim Benz: Big stats from Ben Roethlisberger not crucial for Steelers' success

| Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, 8:12 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.

“Ben Roethlisberger is now just a game manager. He's an unimportant piece of the Steelers' success.”

That's how some will interpret what's to come in this column.

However, that's not the intended message.

Let's be clear in advance: The Steelers need a healthy and effective Roethlisberger.

If he gets hurt or plays poorly in the second half of this year or during the playoffs, the Steelers will fail to win a seventh Super Bowl.

Big Ben has not been at his best so far in 2017. But attempting to extract bigger passing numbers out if him over the final eight weeks is not the answer.

Roethlisberger is the 26th-rated passer in the NFL. He's 25th in completion percentage at 61.1 percent. Only four quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions. And 17 have more touchdown passes.

All that has impacted a third-down offense that is 17th in the NFL and a red zone offense that is second to last.

“It can be frustrating at times offensively because we aren't executing the way that we want to,” Roethlisberger said after his team's win at Detroit on Oct. 29. “But we are winning football games.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley defended his quarterback before the bye weekend.

“There's been movement in the receiver group and the tight end group,” Haley said. “Some of those guys, he doesn't have a long history with. That makes you have to adjust and grow. And I think some of the inconsistencies you see from the outside are not what we see on a daily basis.”

But history shows Roethlisberger doesn't have to put up All-Pro-level yardage totals for his teams to be good.

In fact, Roethlisberger has topped 4,000 yards in a season four times. Twice the Steelers missed the playoffs in those years. The other two times they lost during the first weekend of the postseason.

Amplifying that point, look at Big Ben's career numbers when his supporting cast around him has actually been at its best.

Roethlisberger has quarterbacked five Steeler squads that were good enough to make at least the AFC championship game. He was under center as the leading passer for 82 of those games, including the playoffs. The team won 63 of them. That's a winning percentage of 76.8.

Yet, Roethlisberger only needed to eclipse 300 yards passing in eight of those victories.

Just eight wins out of 63. And not once in the postseason.

So to be clear: In 55 out of 63 wins, Steelers teams that were good enough to be victorious 76 percent of the time — and reach AFC championship games — didn't need Roethlisberger to attain the perceived magic number of 300 yards in a game.

And the teams that needed him to reach the magic number of 4,000 yards in a season weren't good enough to make a dent in the playoffs, if they got there at all.

Those superior teams had running games, defenses and offensive lines that were good enough to support their quarterback. This year's team has the second-best defense in football in points allowed per game. The offensive line has the third-lowest sack rate allowed. And Le'Veon Bell is the third-leading rusher in the NFL.

“Everyone, including ourselves, gets caught thinking that Superman cape should be coming on every play when it doesn't necessarily have to,” quarterback coach Randy Fichtner said of Roethlisberger. “If we protect the ball and keep giving ourselves a chance to win, that's the end story. The end-game is to win the game.”

Roethlisberger shouldn't become the modern-day version of Trent Dilfer on the 2000 Ravens, going through the motions en route to a crown despite never surpassing 200 yards in the air over the last eight games, including the postseason.

In fact, Roethlisberger will probably have to put on that cape at some points this winter.

Remember, John Elway threw for 336 yards in the Super Bowl in his last game as a Bronco.

That's more the model to think of. And it's a far cry from Dilfer of 2000 to Elway of 1998.

This isn't a statement that “less is more” when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger. And it's not a call to “get more out of him.”

It's simply calling on him to do what he does well more often than he has so far this year.

It worked for Elway. It's worked for Roethlisberger in the past. It's time to bottle that formula once more in the second half of 2017.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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