Hines Ward caught hundreds of Ben Roethlisberger’s passes, and he knows what a difference maker the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback can be.
Byron Leftwich, he said, is no Ben Roethlisberger.
“They’ve got to have Ben on the field,” Ward, the former Steelers receiver, said on NBC Sports Network. “One thing about him, to be able to extend plays and get outside the pocket, that’s when he’s at his best. When you lose that element of the game and put Byron in there, a guy who is less mobile, now everybody can just pin back their ears and go with the pass rush and the blitz.”
Asked how far the Steelers will go if Roethlisberger’s injury layoff is lengthy, Ward said, “Not very far, not very far at all. He is their whole team.”
Leftwich isn’t listening to all the doom-and-gloom chatter in advance of his first Steelers start Sunday night, even that from a former teammate.
“I know they’re saying, ‘Hey, man, they got a backup quarterback playing Sunday night against the Ravens’ and we understand nobody’s giving us a shot,” Leftwich said. “That’s OK.”
As center Maurkice Pouncey said, “I think we’ll do a great job with him. People are making this out to be bigger than it’s going to be.”
The Steelers have long believed it was important to get experienced, proven backups behind Roethlisberger, which is why they kept both Leftwich and Charlie Batch.
“Byron is fully capable of running their whole package,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a proven veteran quarterback, he’s very smart, he’s a tough competitor and he’s got great arm strength.”
Wide receiver Mike Wallace knows all about that arm strength.
“Probably about 20-25 miles per hour,” Wallace said about the difference between Roethlisberger and Leftwich. “Byron’s ball comes out a lot faster. I like Byron’s ball. Ben has a nice soft touch on it, you just pluck out of the air and keep rolling. Byron, you definitely got to brace yourself because it’s coming.” It’s Pittsburgh that’s bracing to see how the Steelers do without Roethlisberger.
“He has good, charismatic leadership. He can make all the throws on the field. We expect winning football from him,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Leftwich got up to game speed by playing all but three snaps of the second half Monday night against Kansas City. Now, it’s a matter of running the offense the way the Steelers expect it to be run by making few mistakes, throwing accurate passes and converting on third down.
“It’s going to come down to who makes the most plays on Sunday night, regardless of what’s said on Wednesdays or what people believe,” Leftwich said.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].