First off, this is written Sunday morning before the Week 15 early games kick off. With that in mind, and knowing you have to set your lineup here in the next couple of hours, can you honestly take the chance that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may not play Monday night in San Francisco?
This is the semifinals. This is the quarterback position we are talking about. That’s a big position to leave up to hope for more than 24 hours after the rest of your lineup has finished their games.
Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cleveland Browns two Thursdays ago but managed to get himself back in the game after halftime, limp around in the pocket and be productive. Eventually, he found Antonio Brown for the game-winning 79-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines in the closing minutes.
Eleven days removed from that injury and one cross-country flight later, we are all hoping that Roethlisberger can play because we know the Steelers aren’t going to be able to run against the 49ers’ top-ranked rushing defense (70.5 yards per game) that has allowed no rushing touchdowns. So we would like to feel confident that Big Ben will be out there to make other fantasy stars we count on valuable in the semifinals — namely receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
I think the 49ers’ 19th-ranked pass defense that allows 234.5 yards per game will still be vulnerable with Charlie Batch as the Steelers’ signal caller, so Wallace and Brown should be safe starts. Pittsburgh has the ninth-ranked passing offense in the league at 257.1 yards per game with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The 49ers, in addition to being ranked 19th against the pass have allowed 18 TDs with 18 interceptions.
But it all seems tied in to the health of Roethlisberger.
He sat out three practices before participating Friday, something the coaches said they wanted to see him do before they made a decision on his status. Roethlisberger has certainly proven his toughness over the years, even in coming back into the Cleveland game in which he suffered the latest injury. Can he backpedal enough to get out of the way of the pass rush that is certain to come from the 49ers’ defensive line — one that won’t have to deal with center Maurkice Pouncey now that he’s already been declared out? Can he step into his throws to make accurate connections with Wallace and Brown?
There are just too many question marks surrounding Roethlisberger for me to wait until Monday night to see if he can go. And if he does go, will he be able to make it through the entire game as an effective QB?
Unless you want to pick up San Francisco’s Alex Smith now and wait if you have no other options, then might I suggest Christian Ponder, Rex Grossman, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton or even Kyle Orton to get garbage-time production against the Packers.
And if you do go the Smith route, keep in mind he faces the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense and its sixth-ranked rush defense. Good luck.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter