Ben Roethlisberger: Ben had one of his best statistical years to date in 2011, finishing up with 21 TD’s, 14 INT’s, and 4,077 yds. passing. In the offense that now departed Bruce Arians was running, Ben had a decided influence in not only the plays in the playbook but in situations on the field. He’s been around long enough, 8 seasons now, that he can comfortably audible into a different play if the defense gives him the look he likes. The Steelers have given Ben a plethora of weapons to utilize and he takes full advantage of spreading the ball around, not being afraid to squeeze it into double or even triple coverage if he thinks he can make a play. When healthy he can throw the long ball as efficiently as any Quarterback in the league today. His best game was in week 7 in Arizona; 26-39, 361 yds. & 3 TD’s. Conversely his worse came in week 1 against Baltimore where he threw 3 Int’s, lost 2 Fumbles, and got sacked 4 times.
Big Ben is the unquestioned leader on offense and of the team. He is the starter and the team will go as far as he can carry them, even with a great defense. His ability to play with everything from a broken nose to a broken foot makes him the toughest Quarterback in the league today. His old school, gunslinger mentality lends itself to some great performances but also tends to get him beat up on a regular basis. One of the most criticized parts of his game is of course holding onto the ball trying to make a play. You can’t deny that he’s good at it and it’s hard to argue with his success but it comes at a price. Ben will be entering his 9th year in the league in 2012, and many would like to see him evolve his game into more of a quick passing mentality. Whether or not he can do that remains to be seen but the new offensive coordinator will certainly have to address it. Make no mistake, Ben is not “broken” so you don’t need to fix him, but rather some tweaks to his game can make a world of difference. He is your franchise player, the owner of the most expensive contract in team history. If you expect to keep him around for another 5 years, something will have to give. Certainly a quality offensive line will help prolong Roethlisberger’s career, as will a consistent running game; 2 other areas the team will look to improve upon for next season. 2012 Outlook: Even with Arians now gone and Ben having a somewhat difficult time dealing with it, he is the undisputed starter of the team.
Charlie Batch: The ageless wonder himself, Charlie just finished up his 14th season in the NFL. He’s been with the Steelers since 2002, never playing in more than 8 games in a season (2006) since he’s been with the team. His only significant action in 2011 came on Christmas Even against St. Louis when he started the game in place of Ben. Batch went 15-22 for 208 yds. in a very efficient performance. Over the years Charlie has been able to stay relatively healthy and continue to make the squad each year as the 2nd or 3rd string backup to Big Ben. It’s a good thing too, because Byron Leftwich hasn’t exactly been the model of health, so if not for Batch the team would have been in trouble. He knows the offense, is a great friend to Roethlisberger, is active in the community and comes at cheap price each year.
Batch is a free agent right now but has said he wants to return in 2012. Should the Steelers decide not to give him a new deal he would most likely retire. His roots are in western Pennsylvania and personally I can’t see him going to a different team for another year or 2. 2012 Outlook: I would expect the Steelers to bring back Batch for another 1 or 2 year contract. He’s worth the small cap hit because he can still play when needed.
Byron Leftwich: The team was hoping that he could be their backup of the future but Leftwich spent all of 2011 on injured reserve, and the majority of 2010 also. He broke his arm against Atlanta in the preaseaon, an ugly injury and one that I’ll never forget seeing quite honestly. Leftwich is not a bad Quarterback to have behind your starter but his inability to stay healthy enough to fulfill that role could be what ultimately ends his time in Pittsburgh for good. 2012 Outlook: With Troy Smith signed to a deal this offseason, he’ll push Leftwich for his roster spot in 2012.
Dennis Dixon: Originally drafted out of Oregon, there was talk of eventually using him in a Slash type of role, similar to the Kordell Stewart days. That idea never materialized and injuries have hurt his career. He reluctantly signed his 1 yr. tender offer from the Steelers after testing the free agent market to try and land a starting job before the start of the 2011 season. He didn’t appear in any regular season games in 2011. Dixon did however play in 2 games in 2010 when Roethlisberger was suspended for 4 games, but after suffering a knee injury his year was over. Known as a scrambling QB, he can make plays on the run but has had issues reading defensive coverages. 2012 Outlook: Dixon is a free agent now and the team is unlikely to bring him back at this point.
Troy Smith: We mention Troy because he was just signed to a reserve contract a couple weeks ago and will have a chance to make the roster in 2012. Smith was the starter in San Francisco in 2010, playing in 6 games. He threw for 1,176 yds. 5 TD’s and 4 INT’s. With all the Steelers backup Quarterbacks being free agents, Smith will have a chance to make the roster, most likely as the 3rd string behind Charlie Batch.
Overall Outlook: The team has some serious issues to work through as they assemble the 2012 roster. Ben is the starter but they’ll have to decide who to bring back to play behind him. More than likely it would seem that Batch will return and Smith will battle it out with Leftwich for the final roster spot. If Troy can make a good impression it may be enough to make the team.