As we did last year, we’ll review the Pittsburgh Steelers position-by-position, player-by-player, based on what I have recorded in my Game Rewind notes throughout the season.
We’ll start with quarterback. Or more accurately, Big Ben and two other dudes.
Ben Roethlisberger: Although I probably will anyway, you don’t need me to write a novel about the season Roethlisberger had. It was a historic one. He set a personal best while tying the league high in passing yards, went over the 250 TD mark for his career, and had one of his lowest sack-totals ever. He didn’t win team MVP but was just as deserving.
He’s always been a quarterback that can work outside of the pocket but in his older age, he’s become extremely mobile within the pocket.
He’s shown it in spades throughout the season, starting all the way back in Week One. He instinctively steps over Marcus Gilbert, keeps his eyes downfield, and delivers the throw.
His pump fake is as deadly as always with the uncanny ability to keep a grip onto the football when most others can’t. Pumps three times and hits Antonio Brown on the money.
Make no mistake, he was able to make highlight-inducing plays outside of it, too. His throw on the move to AB in the back of the end zone against Joe Haden in the opening week might have been his best throw of the year. And there were plenty of strong candidates.
And he still did what he’s patently known for, extending the play from within the pocket. Tosses this pass to Le’Veon Bell while going to the ground and firing this touchdown pass from an angle that requires a protractor.
He threw a record twelve touchdown passes in consecutive weeks against the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. The former was arguably a better game – though both were masterful – with Roethlisberger throwing only one bad pass the entire game.
His passes were darts and thrown into tight coverage. A back shoulder throw to Markus Wheaton with Big Ben recognizing the coverage and throwing away from the path the safety anticipated. And a missile in triple coverage to Lance Moore.
Ball placement was excellent at moments where only his receiver could make a play on the ball.
There were moments where you could really tell Roethlisberger was reading the coverage and speeding up internally, quickly getting the ball out of his hand. Overall, he didn’t hold onto the ball nearly as often this year, leading to a decrease in sacks.
As I wrote in my game rewind following the team’s win over the Carolina Panthers, you can feel him going through his reads. As soon as he hits his fourth receiver, the pass is delivered. Can count it off in your head. One…two…three…four, ball out.
Todd Haley gave him a great deal of freedom, at one point estimating Roethlisberger called a quarter of the plays. A chunk of the Steelers’ plays were packaged, giving Ben a run/pass option. Some of them came early in the game, running three straight to begin against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Or in critical third down situations late in the game. This one later in the game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Correctly finds Heath Miller down the seam for a 13 yard gain.
The interceptions stayed in the single digits, too. A fantastic sign.
I’ve never thought Roethlisberger to throw a particularly good deep ball but there were moments where he flashed arm strength. His 80 yard touchdown to Martavis Bryant versus the New York Jets traveled 62.5 yards.
He showed trust in Bell, finding him at the last second when the pocket broke down. A back that can catch? That’s something Roethlisberger has rarely had in his tenure and certainly not from a fulltime starter.
Though nor good or bad, if you haven’t seen it yet, Roethlisberger still occasionally reverts back to his “tell” to change a designed run to a pass. Only Ben and the receiver know, Roethlisberger tugging his facemask the only indication.
Finally, you have to love a quarterback who is willing to block a little bit. He helped spring Bell for a 21 yard run against the Ravens and provided a key cut block on Brown’s TD pass versus the Houston Texans.
Though Brown was unstoppable and points and the rest of the receiving cast were inconsistent, there were multiple times where Big Ben locked onto 84. This was a Week 17 throw to AB on the backside with two defenders in coverage. Needed to get off that read and look to his three receiver surface.
Or just locked onto his man in general, throwing at routes the coverage had taken away. Tries to throw the out to Markus Wheaton against a Cover 2 corner playing “trail” technique. Not going to happen.
There were some footwork issues that persisted throughout the year. Times where his front foot wasn’t pointed to the target, causing his passes to miss left and right.
And some weight transfer problems where he wasn’t driving the throw as well as he could have. This created a tendency for his throws to sail or fall well short of their target.
As Dave Bryan pointed out, his completions in the red zone were on the low-side. He missed open receivers and this may have been where he was most apt to lock onto his target.
Miller is open on a crosser at the goal line but Roethlisberger opts to force a pass to Bryant.
And I figured it would have been an easy touchdown had Ben flipped this pass to Brown in the flat. Instead, an angle route to Bell falls incomplete.
His vision still isn’t ideal and there were times where he was more of a half-field reader than seeing the entire field. Perhaps that was a lack of trust in his young receivers.
Although Mike Tomlin played down using the term “franchise quarterback,” noting it was used more for comfort than substance, you know he can rest easy on his pillow each night with #7 is on his side.
Bruce Gradkowski: Not a bad gig. Make 1.8 million dollars, not have to throw a pass until the playoffs, and wear sweatpants on the sidelines like a college kid waking up for an 8 AM class.
That kind of money buys a lot of ramen noodles. I’ve done the math.
There isn’t much to say about him that hasn’t already been pointed out. If he has to start for an extended period of time, the Steelers are clearly in trouble. But he provides comfort as a player who has starting experience and has been thrust into the lineup throughout his career. Understands how to prepare for a moment’s notice. Why I’m a big fan of having a veteran as my backup instead of the notion you can “groom” a late round QB.
He’ll be back next year in the same role.
Landry Jones: Oh Landry. The bane of some Steelers’ fans existence. The preseason was largely a dud, sans one or two throws that had nice zip on them. I’ve made it clear I’m opposed to drafting a mid-late round quarterback in general. There’s no way to groom one who isn’t going to play and receives few reps in practice.
There isn’t a Steelers’ fan, and likely not a coach, who truly believes Jones has a future as a starter with the Steelers. He’s been demoted to another body. Someone for Edmund Nelson to talk about in between chomps on some ribs during the preseason.
The only explanation for his presence on the roster is a QB suffering an injury in warmups, ensuring the Steelers aren’t down to one QB. That might not be an agreeable reason, I’m not saying I buy it, but that’s my best guess at it.