When the Washington Football Team and the Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff in Week 13, the Monday afternoon/early-evening clash will be a battle of two quarterbacks whose respective ages are 36 and 38.
Both Washington passer Alex Smith and Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger have been starting quarterbacks in the NFL for nearly a decade and a half, and even longer than that in Big Ben's case.
As for any player who's lasted that long in the NFL, Roethlisberger's style of play has drastically changed since he was a rookie. So has Smith's, of course.
With the two veteran quarterbacks set to meet in a crucial December matchup, Smith told local reporters on Wednesday just how impressed he's been with how Roethlisberger has changed the way he plays the QB position over the years.
"I think the thing that has impressed me so much through the arch of his career is how much he’s developed," Smith said. "As time has gone on, he’s done it so many different ways.
"When he was a young guy, he made so many ad-lib plays and so many with his legs, the pump fakes, the breaking tackles," Smith continued. "In the last five years or so to see how prolific he’s become from the pocket and how good that part of his game is, how elite it is."
When Roethlisberger was first starting out, Pittsburgh was primarily a run-first team behind Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. During those early years, Roethlisberger was more known for making the clutch play, rather than making all the plays on offense.
But as the passer grew older -- and the NFL transformed to a pass-happy league -- Roethlisberger had no trouble adapting. For much of the past decade, Roethlisberger has been one of the league's best signal-callers.
Since 2014, Big Ben has made four Pro Bowls and led the NFL in passing yards twice. Several receivers thrived with Roethlisberger at the helm, but perhaps no more than Antonio Brown, who had six consecutive years of 100-plus catches and 1,000 or more yards with Roethlisberger at QB.
Over that same span, Smith truly came into his own, too, enjoying the most success of his career when he was a member of the Chiefs. In his final season with Kansas City in 2017, Smith set career-best marks in passing yards and TD passes, all while posting an exceptionally low interception rate of 1 percent.
Smith's tenure in Washington started off strong, too, but the notorious leg injury that he suffered in November 2018 kept him out of football for nearly two years before he returned to the sport earlier this season.
Just two games into the 2019 season, Roethlisberger suffered a gruesome elbow injury, one that -- like Smith's -- left many wondering if the quarterback would ever be able to recover. Of course, Roethlisberger returned healthy to begin the 2020 campaign, and his Steelers are off to their best start in franchise history.
While their two injuries shouldn't be compared, Smith understands the drive and work ethic needed to recover from injury better than almost anyone. The way Roethlisberger has bounced back this season has been truly impressive to the Washington QB.
"With his age and how many games he’s played and last year, he had the elbow problems and surgery and rehab and then to come out firing 10-0 -- it says a lot about him, not only as a player but I think the work ethic, the mindset that goes into that," Smith said. "You certainly appreciate it from afar."
Having both been in the NFL for so long, whether it's been Pro Bowls they've shared together or random offseason meetups, Smith and Roethlisberger have formed a relationship with one another.
And while they've never been in the same division and have only faced one another once in the postseason, there's a ton of respect between the two passers.
"He's a Hall of Fame player," Smith said.