Steelers must protect Ben Roethlisberger, for now and future

Seahawks' Russell Wilson, Steelers' Markus Wheaton get game balls

Russell Wilson threw for 345 yards and five touchdowns, while Markus Wheaton caught nine balls for 201 yards in the Seahawks' thrilling 39-30 victory over the Steelers.

SEATTLE – The "Big Ben" nickname is associated with toughness. For the past decade, Ben Roethlisberger has been viewed as one of the league’s most durable quarterbacks.

Roethlisberger is still that guy. He’s still tough. He’s still durable. This isn’t about that. This is about the Steelers’ need to protect their most important asset after too many appearances on the injury report this year.

As the hits keep coming this season, Roethlisberger’s name keeps showing up -- first for a knee sprain, then a foot sprain and now concussion symptoms, which Roethlisberger reported to the team late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 39-30 loss to Seattle.

A source told ESPN that Roethlisberger’s symptoms subsided quickly Sunday, which bodes well for his future availability. In the broader context, Roethlisberger’s 6-foot-5 frame needs to fuel the Steelers' engine for the next five years, at least.

The principals inside the Steelers’ South Side practice complex don’t want to see this recent eight-game stretch of injuries as the new normal.

It's not plainly evident what they can do: some extra offseason yoga, maybe? Place him in bubble wrap? Yes, these are often freak injuries nobody can control. Regardless, the Steelers aren’t maximizing their potential without Roethlisberger’s health, which has been compromised too many times this season.

After taking 386 sacks in his first 10 years, the Steelers and Roethlisberger have worked together to reduce the pounding. Roethlisberger is averaging 1.7 sacks per game this season, which is a reasonable clip. Maybe there’s a way to build on that.

Roethlisberger is putting up serious yardage this season and averaging 335 yards per game with a 66.5 completion percentage through seven appearances. He has already tied last year’s interception total with nine. Perhaps with an undeterred, healthy season, he would reduce that number.

Maybe he wouldn’t need to carry such a heavy load each week. After all, the defense has improved this year but is still susceptible to a secondary lapse. Russell Wilson was the third quarterback to throw for at least four touchdowns against the Steelers.

At 6-5, the Steelers are part of a fringe wild-card cluster in the AFC.

“We’ve got to make it happen,” guard Ramon Foster said.

That only happens when No. 7 is upright.