by Jon Miller - 10/14/2005
Big Ben's bell has finally been rung in Pittsburgh. It was a matter of time really, as only a handful of quarterbacks finish an NFL season unscathed and off the injury report. The frightening hit to Ben Roethlisberger's knee Monday night in San Diego had a lot of people worried: obsessed fantasy football owners, Steelers teammates and family, not to mention the handicappers at sports books, scratching their collective heads on where to place the Steelers' next line.
Well, first the good news. Roethlisberger was upgraded to questionable following an MRI on the damaged knee, which revealed a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise. Head coach Bill Cowher went so far as to say that Roethlisberger may even play against Jacksonville, which seemed an impossibility at the time Big Ben was injured, when fans everywhere were immediately trying to place him on the Joe-Theisman-inspired list of freak football injuries. Thankfully, if looks like we may all forget about this injury in just a few more weeks of football.
When Michael Vick was announced inactive for the Atlanta Falcons in a week four match up against New England, the line took a six-point swing in most books, starting at a -3 and ending at a +3 for the Falcons. Obviously, a quality starting quarterback is worth a lot in the NFL, and the bookies know this. So where does the Roethlisberger injury leave bookies this week for the Steelers home contest against Jacksonville?
The line at most books looks like Pittsburgh -3, which is probably not much different than it would be if Roethlisberger was in the lineup. At home against a formidable Jacksonville team that is coming off a solid win against the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals, I don't believe the line would be any different with Charlie Batch, Tommy Maddox or Roethlisberger under center. Scotty Johnson, general manager for Bet Jamaica echoes that sentiment.
"The line came out Wednesday and has opened and stayed at a solid three," he said. "Philosophy on the ever strong NFL 3 is as stable as it gets. (The injury) may certainly deter some bettors but the injury report came back very optimistic, which was good news."
Either Batch, a disappointment in Detroit who hasn't started a game in four years, or former Steelers starter and XFL stud Tommy Maddox will most likely start in place of Roethlisberger, although Cowher has remained quiet on the issue, most likely to confound the defensive coaches in Jacksonville. Maddox was upgraded to probable on the injury report this week after being injured in practice Oct. 7, an injury that, like Roethlisberger's, initially appeared to be more serious than it was.
"Most backup quarterbacks certainly don't have the snaps with the first team so the receiver timing patterns can be affected obviously," Johnson commented. "However, like many others in the same spot, competitive athletes often rise to the challenge in other positions such as running backs as well on the other side of the ball."
True, not since the days of Terry Bradshaw has Steelers football ever been so focused on the quarterback position. Even then, Pittsburgh was a defensive minded football team at the height of the Steel Curtain. That's been Cowher's philosophy here too, smashing the ball on the ground and grinding out low-scoring, defensive victories. Never has the offense required much of Roethlisberger as he rarely exceeds 20 attempts a game. Perhaps too much has been made of his 16-1 regular season record as the starter in Pittsburgh?
With injuries to key players, the bookmakers are often late in releasing the line until the situation becomes clearer. While the line may swing or jump, Johnson says that these injuries aren't as frustrating as they would seem.
"This particular situation with the NFL doesn't affect the overall volume that much," he added. "Early week wagering isn't nearly as popular as the late week and game day volumes."
We will see where the line ends up today as receiver Hines Ward missed practices this week with a hamstring injury. If Ward doesn't practice today, he most likely will not play Sunday. Without Ward in the game and a possible third stringer under center in Batch and coming in working on a short week, three points is quite a compliment to Pittsburgh. Again, that compliment goes to the defense and the smash mouth running game.
Questions or comments? E-mail email@example.com.