To teammates, Roethlisberger looks better than ever

By Vic Carucci
Senior Columnist
Published: Oct. 25, 2010 at 09:12 p.m. Updated: Oct. 25, 2010 at 10:15 p.m.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Ike Taylor could see it two weeks ago in practice, as Ben Roethlisberger prepared for his first game back from his suspension.

The footwork. The crispness of his delivery. The accuracy of his throws. The quality of the passes being completed against one of the better defense's in the NFL -- and that included those that came at the cornerback's own expense.

Taylor has been Roethlisberger's teammate for all seven seasons the quarterback has spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has studied his game long enough and closely enough to establish a standard by which to measure his performance. And it's a fairly lofty one given that Roethlisberger was under center for both of the Steelers' Super Bowl victories since 2005 and that before this season, even amid the bad behavior that would lead to him being suspended for the first four games, Roethlisberger was easily among the top five quarterbacks in the league.

"Ben, man, you look better than I've ever seen," Taylor told him. "Even (better than) in training camp, when everybody was saying you looked good."

So it hasn't come as any surprise to Taylor, or anyone else on the Steelers who has had a close-up view of Roethlisberger's workouts, that his return is going exceptionally well.

After a little bit of a slow start against the improving Cleveland Browns in Week 6, he showed the familiar form that makes him so good. On Sunday, with the Miami Dolphins shutting down the Steelers' running game, Roethlisberger responded the way an elite quarterback should by throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He effectively ran the no-huddle offense for the first time this season. He also lunged for what was initially ruled a touchdown, but later became a fumble that the Steelers, in a controversial ruling, were able to retain to set up the winning field goal in a 23-22 victory.

"I still left quite a few things out there," Roethlisberger said. "I'm disappointed in myself, but with that being said, a win's a win."

If you ask his teammates, they'll tell you their quarterback is being a bit too hard on himself. "I think he's doing a great job," linebacker James Farrior said. "I mean, to come back in after a month and to play as well as he's played these last two games, I think, is tremendous. The sky's the limit for him, and I think he's only going to get better each week."

With a "new and improved" Roethlisberger, the Steelers can make a prety convincing case as the best team in the NFL.

Their defense and running game helped carry them while Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch filled in at quarterback. Now, they have the passer who can deliver those long, difference-making throws, such as the one that resulted in a 53-yard touchdown to Mike Wallace and the one that produced a 43-yard gain to Hines Ward to set up a field goal.

"He stepped up in the pocket and I was coming open into a zone and he laid it over the top, only where I could get it," Ward said, marveling as if that hadn't happened many times before and in bigger games. "He's the same Ben. Every time we step into the huddle, we feel like we have a chance to win every ballgame. And that's always been the same."

Ward does, however, see Roethlisberger showing a better understanding of the offense than he did even a year ago.

"He's looking down to his first, second, third reads," said Ward, who also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass against Miami. "It's amazing. And then his escapability, getting to extend the plays, even makes him more dangerous. All in all, he's getting back into form and it's great to have him back."

Great is one word. Taylor has a different one.

When he thinks about the Steelers' 3-1 start without Roethlisberger, when he thinks about their defense (which ranked sixth in the NFL overall and first against the run entering Week 7), and when he thinks about a running game that has been mostly solid this season, he sees the team being capable of something that is appropriate for the season.

"It can be scary, man," Taylor said. ... -than-ever