When news first came out some five weeks ago that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an MCL injury, many in the Queen City pulled out their calendars and Cincinnati Bengals schedules to do a little injury-return math.
It didn't take long for many to realize that the last of the approximate four weeks Roethlisberger was scheduled to miss would coincide with the Bengals' first meeting of the year with the Steelers. The prevailing thought in Cincinnati was that at some point before the Nov. 1 meeting the quarterback would be back. Although, like Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said Monday about the long-noted tough Roethlisberger, "If it would have been last week he got injured, he probably [still] would play this week."
Well, NFL fans, we're in luck. We'll be seeing quite the quarterback showdown. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Roethlisberger appears in line to make his return Sunday -- after four games away -- when Pittsburgh hosts its division-rival Bengals.
Roethlisberger's return comes amid the hottest stretch of football Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has played in his career. The league's leader in Total QBR and passer rating, Dalton has been masterful in leading the Bengals to a 6-0 record that has many believing they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. He'll be out to prove he's significantly better than his 2-6 all-time record against the Steelers might indicate.
Can Dalton build upon his start? Or will the Steelers, under Roethlisberger's control, play the role of midseason spoiler? We'll find out at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. But before we do, let's take a look at how the two quarterbacks compare in this tale of the tape. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler and Coley Harvey provide the breakdown from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, respectively:
Roethlisberger: "Big Ben," Pittsburgh Steelers
Dalton: "Red Rifle," Cincinnati Bengals
SECRET TO SUCCESS
Roethlisberger: Accuracy, the ability to control the line of scrimmage, a deft touch with the no-huddle offense, a 240-plus-pound body that can shed defensive linemen and also looks like a defensive lineman and a prototypical NFL arm.
Dalton: He has a quick-strike ability, taking very little time to pass to his targets on shorter routes. He also can take as much time as he wants to throw behind arguably the best offensive line in the league. This year, his accurate deep throws have been a weapon.
MOST VALUABLE ASSET
Roethlisberger: His ability to get chunk yardage out of virtually nothing. Plays will break down and Roethlisberger will create, maneuver and find receivers for big gains, sometimes while a linebacker drapes over him.
Dalton: Decision-making. Perhaps because of his turnover-heavy past, this has been his most underrated quality this season. When the pocket collapses and sacks seem imminent, Dalton has been good about scrambling until the last possible second and throwing the ball away.
MOST IMPRESSIVE ACCOMPLISHMENT THIS SEASON
Roethlisberger: His 10.2 yards per passing attempt, which, combined with a 75.3 completion percentage, gives him a 113.1 passer rating, one of the very best in the league.
Dalton: He's had a year of accomplishments, but his top achievement was bringing the Bengals back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Seattle in overtime. Cincinnati was the first team in 428 tries to win after that wide of a fourth-quarter margin.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM ON SUNDAY
Roethlisberger: Roethlisberger returns after a four-game absence, lifting the spirits of the rest of the offense. The Steelers have more options offensively than the Bengals, plus the defense has improved.
Dalton: He hasn't lost yet this season and has looked especially good on the road, winning at Oakland, Baltimore and Buffalo. Having a rested and fully healthy group of playmakers helps, too.