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In Ben They Trust

Going into his 15th professional season, Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains the key to a successful season.

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Mike Tomlin assessed Ben Roethlisberger’s summer at Saint Vincent College as “awesome.”

Kevin Colbert characterized Roethlisberger as “a future Hall-of-Famer,” and as one who is “still really peaking.”

The Steelers will need nothing less from Big Ben this season.

The training camp they completed this week confirmed what those who have been paying attention probably already suspected: The Steelers will go as far as Roethlisberger is able to take them.

That’s what made seeing him face down on the grass on Tuesday afternoon in Latrobe so temporarily foreboding. If Roethlisberger is out of the picture for any length of time, for whatever reason, the deal is broken and the game is over.

If, at 36 and entering his 15th professional season, Roethlisberger can coax from the weaponry surrounding him the necessary explosiveness, the Steelers have a chance to be the team on the right end of a tight playoff game this time around.

The role of the defense, when all of this begins to play out for keeps on Sept. 9 in Cleveland, will be to make an occasional play. If it happens at the just right time, one might be enough.

Welcome to the NFL in 2018.

“I think defense wins championships,” defensive end Cam Heyward maintained with a straight face before the Steelers had departed Westmoreland County. “But I think you have to break it down even smaller. To win games, you gotta have defensive plays. I don’t care how many points you score, if you get one defensive stop you can win a game. You saw it in the Super Bowl, a guy got a sack, ended the game.”

The reference was to defensive end Brandon Graham’s sack of quarterback Tom Brady and the subsequent fumble recovery by defensive end Derek Barnett that helped seal the deal in Philadelphia’s remarkable, 41-33 victory over New England in Super Bowl LII. Those two teams accounted for 1,151 yards — an astounding 613 were gained by the Patriots in what amazingly still became a losing effort — as well as a combined 74 points. There’s not a whole lot most defenses are going to be able to do about numbers like those when confronting offenses that rank among the best in the business.

The Steelers, meanwhile, will continue to hold themselves to the highest of standards as it relates to their defensive intentions.

“I still think we can go 16-0 and give up zero points throughout the entire season,” Heyward insisted. “But these offenses are good and they’re going to test you. So you go into a game, you get to that fourth quarter, you’re thinking, ‘Who’s going to make that play? Is it gonna be the defense or the offense that puts you over?’”

That still sounds like a lot to ask from a defense whose performance so far in the preseason can best be described as incomplete.

Outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, who have switched sides this season, have been conspicuous by their absences from practices. So has Sean Davis, who is transitioning to the critical free safety position. Artie Burns is still a “maybe” in terms of being capable of providing what the Steelers will need from him at cornerback. And while Jon Bostic is an upgrade from Sean Spence at inside linebacker, Bostic is still no Ryan Shazier.

Maybe one of those guys can make that critical, fourth-quarter play anyway. Maybe Heyward or Stephon Tuitt can. Maybe Morgan Burnett will justify his signing as a free agent in such a fashion. The safer bet, and the more plausible scenario, for a Steelers resurrection is to just outscore everybody with an avalanche of offense.

All that’ll take is awesome play from a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback who’s game is still ascending.

All Roethlisberger need do is be better than ever, all the way through Super Bowl LIII in February in Atlanta.


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