Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger belongs in the MVP conversation

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on November 18, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

After a rough start to the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have become the team many thought they would be this season. They are a Super Bowl favorite in the AFC, and their quarterback has a big part in where they are.

As this season opened, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t belong anywhere near the realm of the MVP conversation. He had a terrible week one performance in Cleveland, and for all intents and purposes, was quite mediocre in the month of September. He threw for a lot of yards (1,414) in September, but his eight touchdowns to five interceptions was quite poor.

After the calendar turned over to October, the Steelers stepped their game up in a big way. Don’t think Big Ben’s improved play coinciding with the Steelers playing better is just a coincidence.

Let me put it this way: the Steelers will go as far as Big Ben takes them.

I’m not taking away from the other weapons the Steelers have on offense, including the break out of James Conner. I’m definitely not taking away from the defense turning it around and playing more than good enough. I’m not taking away from the Steelers’ pass rush, which is one of the best in the NFL. Those need mentioning and are worthy of being key reasons for the Steelers being 7-2-1 heading into Thanksgiving week.

Let’s face it though. The Steelers aren’t winning anything without Big Ben under center. The Steelers don’t clobber Atlanta, probably don’t beat Cincinnati on the road, and definitely don’t beat Carolina or Jacksonville with Josh Dobbs as the captain of the ship. It’s nothing against Dobbs, but there’s so much more than pure numbers of why Ben is so valuable.

In this new age of quarterbacks like Pat Mahomes, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz, where they are playing an extension of the college game that made them first round talents in the first place, how is it that old guys like Big Ben, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees can still be not just good enough in the league, but still in the “elite” category?

These guys know how to read defenses. This is something Ben has developed over the last five years (give or take a year) that has made him so valuable, even if his physical ability isn’t quite what it once was.

Take the winning touchdown in Cincinnati for example:

Ben reads an all out blitz and motions Antonio Brown for a hot route right behind the blitz. Ben also knows the ball has to come out immediately and has to be on target. Now, that’s some physical ability, but more than anything, it’s mentally beating the defense. Does Josh Dobbs make that play?

This isn’t bashing Dobbs or even Mason Rudolph, who both are exciting backups for multiple reasons. But the key word there is “back ups.” This team isn’t winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy with a backup running the show.

Big Ben has been given the playbook with pretty much full authority to use it as his disposal. And now that he has an offensive coordinator he actually likes, look at where the Steelers have mostly improved: the red zone.

In 2018, the Steelers are scoring touchdowns over 77% of the time when they enter the red zone. That’s 2nd in the NFL. In 2017, the Steelers scored touchdowns on only 53% of red zone trips. The massive improvement in the red zone should be attributed to new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and Big Ben having the reigns of the offense like never before.

If those numbers aren’t proof enough for you that the Steelers are relying on Big Ben to take them to the Super Bowl, Ben is also throwing the ball more often than ever. He’s averaging 41.6 attempts-per-game, only second to Joe Flacco. He’s already thrown the ball 416 times this season, which if he continues this pace, will well exceed his career-high of 608 in 2014.

The only players that get legitimate consideration for MVP have to put up numbers too. It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the sugar coating the media needs to vote for someone to be MVP. Big Ben is also up there with the elite in numbers. He’s currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards and is on pace for 5,123 yards, which would exceed his career-high. He’s also on pace to set a career-high in passing touchdowns, all while being pretty efficient with a 96.9 passer rating.

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Off the heels of his worst outing, in terms of efficiency, I understand it’s a bit difficult to understand pushing for this guy to be in the MVP conversation. But, it really isn’t. Value isn’t all tangible and measured on a stat sheet. Big Ben provides massive value for the Steelers, and while the rest of the team, especially the defense, continues to improve, this team won’t get to their ultimate goal without #7 under center.