Is It Time for the Steelers to Bench Ben Roethlisberger?

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Ben Roethlisberger's time with the Pittsburgh Steelers was extended for at least one season out of desperation by both sides. It seems that he is on the brink of the worst kind of conclusion.

Big Ben's resignation midseason due to his play.

He has completed 63.8 per cent of his passes in three games for the 1-2 Steelers. He also throws a trio touchdowns and interceptions, while taking eight sacks.

The numbers don't tell the whole story. Big Ben, who was apparently contemplating retirement last offseason, agreed to a restructuring deal that would have saved the Steelers millions. The short version is that he wanted to continue playing, but he wasn't going anywhere else at 39. Also, the Steelers, having won 12 games last season, didn't have enough capital to pay for a free-agent quarterback or a large passer.

Steelers were plagued by questions about Ben's health late last season, when they finished at 1-5 before succumbing to the Cleveland Browns in round two of the playoffs. The offseason was filled with the "best shape of my life" buzz.

Now, fast forward to Week 3. He's viral because he looks so out of place.

Roethlisberger must be fair. There are many reasons. The offensive line of Pittsburgh hasn't looked the same since the loss of Mike Munchak many years ago. This group is probably the worst in the entire Big Ben era.

His shortcomings as a passer have been exacerbated by his poor selection of weapons. Chase Claypool appears to be a top player. However, Diontae Johnson has had drop issues and JuJu Smith–Schuster is back, despite little interest from other teams. Although the team invested a first round pick in Najee Harris, instead of an even bigger problem like the offensive line, he is struggling to get started with poor run blocking and the limited impact backs have these day.

Concerns have not been alleviated by inconsistent and sometimes even funny play-calling. The Steelers were down 14 with three minutes remaining when the fourth-down play was made. Roethlisberger instead of trying to score seven points from the end zone, hit Harris out the backfield for a one yard loss. He later admitted that he regretted not pushing it to the endzone.

This isn't an isolated incident.

This trust is not only on the veteran but also on his coaches and, apparently, on his trust in himself. He missed several crucial completions deep beyond that play. This was after Steelers wideout Eli Apple threw a ball deep to Bengals backup Eli Apple. To give context, Ben attempted 58 passes but lost. Joe Burrow, Bengals quarterback, attempted only 18, and threw three touchdowns.

The Steelers don't have an easy way out. This is partly why the Steelers settled for Big Ben's run-it back. Mason Rudolph has been less than stellar more often than usual. The redemption story of Dwayne Hakins has been mediocre, as the former first-round selection was not inspiring during the preseason.

At this point, however, anything could be better. Because Ben isn't mobile, the defenses are attacking him and the secondary sits on his short stuff because he's not reliable deep. It might be more efficient to go to a mobile quarterback who can make plays, perform designed rollouts, and threaten Harris with a read-option.

The Steelers can't do much if they look outside of the team. Cam Newton is there, but it's likely that Pittsburgh does not want the same media circus New England was trying to avoid.

Trades might be an option. It's not as realistic as it seems. The Steelers might be able to convince the Las Vegas Raiders to trade Marcus Mariota, since Derek Carr is still playing elite ball. They don't have the capital to bring in Deshaun Watson or possibly a Jimmy Garoppolo. We might revisit the idea of Tua Tagovailoa, if another team like Miami is interested in Watson. Capital is scarce.

He can use his Mariota to navigate the pockets and adds a dynamic element of offense. Drew Lock, Denver's quarterback, is also realistic. He is currently playing the best football of Teddy Bridgewater's career.

The Steelers gambled and lost. They were so desperate to see Ben win that they gave up on their hopes of making it one more playoff run, that they refused to take a pick in the sixth round for guys like Gardner Minshew.

The timeline is important, regardless of what you do. The upcoming schedule is clear and explains why nobody is suggesting that Big Ben should be shut down. Before a bye, the Steelers will play Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers in Week 4. Week 5's undefeated Broncos are up next. Week 6 is Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

Matt Durisko/Associated Press

If the Steelers are looking at a worst-case scenario, 1-5 with little offensive improvement, this bye seems like the best place for them to gently sit him down. This is not the way either side wanted to see it end for what is certain to be a Hall of Fame career.

But what about right now? His legacy is beginning to suffer. Although the incredible feats will not be overlooked, it is a devastating end for his legacy. He is also making plays that most people would not consider and would have them benched. Steelers are trying to honor their icon but keeping him in would be the opposite.

Steelers will not have a pass who can push the ball as far down the field today, no matter what they do. Even if he's no longer able to do the short-range dink-and dunk, he won't be able to make it happen anymore.

Steelers fans won't like to hear that their current trajectory will keep them within reach of a top-tier passer next year's draft. It will be difficult to decide whether Roethlisberger should be left out, making him look old and stale, or if he should be seated in a clipboard-holding support role.

It's not an easy decision for everyone involved, but the Week 7 bye appears to be circled in red ink and could serve as a landmark moment for 2021 Steelers.