Ben Roethlisberger’s return from a left knee injury sets the stage for a heroic second-half performance, assuming the offense under Michael Vick stands firm.
Roethlisberger’s anterior cruciate ligament is still intact. He’ll likely miss four to six weeks with an MCL sprain and a bone bruise, with a return as early as Nov. 1 against the Bengals in Heinz Field. CBS Sports first reported the MCL injury.
The Steelers simply need to hold on here -- get a few first downs, ride their horses, grind out a few wins until November.
Ben Roethlisberger has said this is the best supporting cast he has ever had, which should mean they can stand on their own without him.
Now it’s time to test them, see if they can carry Big Ben while he’s out.
The offensive fireworks won’t light up the sky like they do when Roethlisberger leads the charge. You don’t replace 10.2 passing yards per attempt. Ben Roethlisberger and his playmakers have a mutually beneficial relationship. Antonio Brown helps make Roethlisberger better, and Roethlisberger does the same for Brown.
But the Steelers have won without Big Ben before, and with lesser offensive talent. Roethlisberger has played 91 percent of the Steelers games since entering the league in 2004. In the other 9 percent, the Steelers are 9-7.
Asking Michael Vick to be more than a game manager, at this stage, is probably asking too much. Last year, Vick had the worst QB rating (21.4) among 42 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. He’s 6-13 in his past 19 starts.
But his poor supporting cast with the Jets contributed to those numbers. He has probably never had weapons like he has now. Todd Haley can draw up creative running plays while asking Vick to make 20-25 quality throws a game. Vick can handle that.
Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension at the perfect time. He got 26 touches against St. Louis (including seven receptions), and that volume could increase in the next few weeks. The Steelers can use DeAngelo Williams as a viable No. 2.
The Steelers are good at putting up a united front. This prideful franchise will sell optimism through Roethlisberger's injury. Mike Tomlin will sell realism: Go win with what you have.
The reality is that no duds lie in the October schedule -- Baltimore, San Diego, Arizona and Kansas City all are capable of making the playoffs. This won’t be an easy month.
But the defense has showed up in a big way the last two weeks, surviving Tom Brady and still ranking in the NFL's top five in points allowed. Primary Rams tailbacks Tre Mason and Todd Gurley averaged 1.7 yards per carry (25 yards on 15 tries).
Defensive players might welcome the pressure of playing good football without Roethlisberger as a safety net.
Just for a month.