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Why 2016 will be a career-defining year for Ben Roethlisberger

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I know what you’re thinking: Ben Roethlisberger has already had his career-defining year.

On the surface it’s hard to imagine that in this stage of his career he hasn’t had a season that separates him from the rest—two Super Bowl victories and multiple Pro Bowl berths. Many would agree.

I, however, do not.

This will be the year that Roethlisberger finally silences whatever skeptics—or haters, if you will—remain. 

Throughout his entire career, Roethlisberger hasn’t received the same credit of quarterback like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. From his remarkable rookie campaign in 2004 to his league-leading output in passing yards in 2014, Roethisberger has continuously been left out of the “best quarterback” conversations.

Maybe he was overshadowed by the gaudy numbers of the aforementioned quarterbacks. Maybe his personal life has warranted a lot of animosity toward his professional life.

Whatever the case may be, Roethlisberger’s ability has been and continues to be widely underappreciated.

Now 34, Roethlisberger has had some of his better statistical seasons since turning 30. If not for the injuries last season, he undoubtedly would have had the best season of his career—at least from a production standpoint.

Roethlisberger is averaging just under 27 touchdowns since reaching his third decade.

For somebody like Tom Brady, 27 touchdowns earns a shrug of the shoulders. For No. 7, it warrants a turn of the head.

Numbers, however, have never done Roethlisberger justice.

There are tools in his game that no other quarterback has, at least not in the current NFL anyway. Warren Moon comes to mind as a guy that had the escapability, but let’s not start comparing the two just yet. That can be a topic for another time.

But show me a guy in today’s NFL that can play the position like Roethlisberger.

Show me a guy that uses size over speed and not speed over size.

You won’t find one.

Cam  Newton? Speed over considerable size.

Tom Brady? Neither.

Aaron Rodgers? Speed over size.

The list goes on and on with quarterbacks that either use their speed over their size, or just crumble under the pressure.

Brady has made a career of lighting up the opposition. And why? Because he always had time to sit in the pocket, dissect the defense and play catch with his receivers. He had one of the best offensive lines blocking for him for a good portion of his career.

Despite the Patriots remarkable success, the game plan against Brady hasn’t been all that difficult throughout the years.

Look back at the tapes of New England losses. You will find one thing is common. The defense got to Brady. When Brady is under pressure, he crumbles.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has made his career out of doing his best Houdini impressions and escaping the darkest of situations. Sure he takes his share of sacks; at times leading the league. But when your line is so bad for so long, it’s hard being perfect.

But the reason Roethlisberger’s best season awaits him is simple.

His game has elevated to another level in the past few seasons. He is showing no visible signs of age, at least not from a performance standpoint.

Sure he’s spending more time on the sidelines than most guys 10 years younger, but everybody is more susceptible to injuries as they get older— professional athlete or not.

But on the field, the elevation is visible.

This guy even entered a game as a backup last season—essentially playing on one leg—and threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns.

Who does that at 33 years old? Not many.

He played in only 12 games in 2015, and still finished with almost 4,000 passing yards.

Now do yourself a favor and imagine if he plays behind a healthy and capable line.

Imagine if he were able to build off 4,952 yards from the prior year, a season in which he also threw 32 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.

It’s not farfetched to think he could have added 11 touchdowns and about 1,000 yards in four games – Manning/Brady/Rodgers numbers.

Now I know he needs to stay healthy in order for this to happen, and that’s never a guarantee for a guy with Roethlisberger’s track record.

But assuming Roethlisberger stays healthy, he will have his best season to date. He will flirt with 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns.
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger
Crazy?

Consider his weapons.

Le’Veon Bell (whether it's for 16 or 12 games) and Antonio Brown, for starters. Darrius Heyward-Bey will play a larger role this season and he’ll have a greater impact that many casual observers may expect. And don’t forget the newest addition, a big target, Ladarius Green. All these guys have the ability to stretch the field.

Those are the kinds of weapons that create career-defining seasons – especially if Pittsburgh would go on to win Super Bowl LI, a game in which they are the early favorite to win.

This will also be the year Roethlisberger finally wins an NFL MVP Award.

Bold, I know. But with the stats he is capable of putting up, and with an offense that expects to average 30-plus points per game, don’t be surprised if that’s what 2016 has in store.

I know I wouldn’t be.

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