The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Can Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy in 2016 after taking a beating and missing time last season?
Despite their successes, the 2015 Steelers offense was certainly snake-bitten with misfortune, both self-inflected or otherwise. Whether it was an All-Pro center missing the entire year, star players getting suspended, or Ben Roethlisberger getting banged around in spite of superior protection, they never managed to reach their ceiling in large part because they could never execute at full strength.
But while Martavis Bryant’s suspension for the entirety of the 2016 season already throws a wrench into that, there is no reason to believe that the Steelers’ Pro Bowl quarterback can’t manage to stay upright this year.
After all, he managed to do so for two straight years prior. Over the course of the 2013 season, Roethlisberger did not miss one single snap. He missed zero snaps due to injury during the 2014 regular season—Bruce Gradkowski logged seven snaps in one garbage time game—although he had a three-snap span in the postseason that he did miss.
Three snaps missed due to injury over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons certainly pales in comparison to nearly 300 snaps logged combined by Mike Vick and Landry Jones over the course of the 2015—by a factor of about 100. And strongly suggests that the 2015 total is the outlier.
One might be led to believe otherwise because of Roethlisberger’s inability to stay healthy earlier in his career, but things have changed since then, where the team has made a conscious effort to help him alter his game, settling for more short passes and improving the protection schemes.
The rise of Le’Veon Bell as a passing option has helped make the check down option a far more savory proposition, as attested to by his 83 receptions in 2014, but his absence through most of the 2015 season did not help.
The Steelers offensive line pass protected quite well, overall, in spite of injuries, but Alejandro Villanueva’s growing pains were an issue. Whoever starts at left tackle, whether or not it is him, will be even better than his first season.
A string of freak incidents is simply something that cannot be accounted for, nor planned for, but there should be no reason to work under the assumption that Roethlisberger will be injured based on how the 2015 season went down, during which he played under 75 percent of the team’s snaps, missing four full games and parts of others due to injury.