Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 38 years old and playing with a surgically reconstructed right elbow in this, his 17th NFL season.
The results have been a mixed bag so far, with the Steelers racing out to an 11-0 start, lifted by a short passing game that resulted in a 101.4 passer rating for Roethlisberger through 11 games, on pace for his best mark in a half-dozen years.
Over the last three games, though, that offensive game plan has faltered, with defenses changing their keys to stop the underneath passes and the Steelers’ receivers developing a multi-week case of the drops. Over the last three weeks, Roethlisberger’s passer rating has been 77.7.
Roethlisberger injured his knee a few weeks back in a game at Dallas and missed an entire week of practice leading up to the Washington. He’s thrown an NFL-high 521 passes this season, on pace for the second-largest total in his career while coming off elbow surgery.
He looked every bit his age and his perceived health status on Sunday night in Baltimore, as he poorly threw a pair of game-changing interceptions that ended up being huge factors in Pittsburgh’s second straight loss and left him openly questioning whether he can still play the game at a high level.
But if there’s a problem with the way he’s been playing, it isn’t tied to his knee, Roethlisberger insisted on Wednesday.
“I mean, I’m 38 years old,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve played football for 17 years. I’ve had multiple surgeries. … But other than just an old knee and arthritis, my knee actually feels really good this week, especially after playing on an artificial surface. Typically, that is another issue that makes it kind of ache. After last week, it feels pretty good.”
His right elbow is also not holding him back from performing, he said, and in fact, it feels better than it usually would at this point of the season.
“My arm feels really good,” he said. “Typically, this time of year, my elbow would be getting worn down and I don’t feel that right now, so I’m very encouraged by that.”
He’ll still continue the protocols put into place at the beginning of the season to keep his elbow healthy, and will continue to try to find news ways to stay in the best possible condition for throwing, but at the end of the day, he does not feel that he’s been hampered by his health.
“I talk to the doctors a lot. I talk to Garret Giemont, our strength and conditioning (coach), I talk to our John Norwig, our trainer,” Roethlisberger said. “Just because it feels good, you don’t want to push it so much that you end up falling off that cliff or you go down hill right away. It might not be a slow decline; it could be a big fall off. You want that to happen at the end of February, not right now. Right now, my arm feels really good, and we want to continue that. That’s kind of how we approach our work every week.”
The Steelers have problems to sort out on offense, but apparently, the health of their quarterback is not one of them.