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Ben Roethlisberger can outplay Andy Dalton on one bad knee

With Ben Roethlisberger prepping to return after a four-week absence from an MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee, his ability is unquestioned. But questions remain about the rust he must shake Sunday against Cincinnati.

If that knee is close to healthy, though, take Big Ben over Andy Dalton, who's playing great but is still on a lower shelf in the quarterback hierarchy. With the home crowd behind him in a key divisional game, Roethlisberger will inject life into the Steelers' offense.

What else should Steelers fans expect from him?

Lateral movement the biggest question: If Roethlisberger is tentative at all, this will likely be the area of concern. It’s also the last hurdle in Roethlisberger’s recovery. He’s already planting and throwing. His understanding of the offense hasn’t gone away. Chemistry with receivers should return quickly. His ability to move left to right while navigating a pass rush must be tested in live action Sunday. There’s no other way to simulate that because quarterbacks don’t take hits in practice.

Quick passes galore: Todd Haley’s offense is predicated on a quick, rhythmic passing game. Roethlisberger has thrived in this setting. The knee gives the Steelers incentive to accentuate that offensive identity by releasing the ball in two seconds or less while allowing playmakers yards-after-catch opportunities.

Trust in his offensive line: Roethlisberger goes out of his way to reference his belief in his offensive line. As a result, don’t expect him to play scared or hesitant. When he's improvising, he’ll look downfield while trusting his line will give him time. “Our job is still to keep him safe,” guard Ramon Foster said. “He’s coming off the knee thing and I’m sure teams will be aiming for him. ... We’ve got to be on point. ... We have to prepare as if he’s still hobbling.”

More explosive plays: The Steelers managed two pass plays longer than 40 yards in the past four weeks. Roethlisberger was throwing a beautiful deep ball before he got hurt. If he feels good planting and throwing, expect Pittsburgh to take a few shots.

Elevated play around him: Roethlisberger has stayed upbeat and engaged while injured, starting impromptu throwing sessions with receivers between drills and pumping up defensive players pregame. His presence should lift the rest of the crew.