The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will Ben Roethlisberger’s play grow stronger in the second half with more familiarity with his targets?
Early in the Steelers’ bye week, the media got access to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who predictably was tasked with fielding some questions about his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who statistically is having one of the worst seasons of his career, in spite of the team’s 6-2 record.
The primary defense for Roethlisberger’s numbers that he gave was the fact that he was throwing to a lot of unfamiliar targets this year—setting aside the fact that last year was the same story, yet he produced better numbers.
Haley isn’t wrong though. Aside from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, with a dash of Jesse James, this is a pretty different set of offensive skill position players from last season, even factoring in the fact that Martavis Bryant was suspended for a year, and that chemistry has clearly not gotten all the way back.
But two big targets for him this year are, or should be, rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald. In the case of the latter, he was only acquired in August via trade, so he has had little time to work with them.
And sure, a case can be made that the lack of time together has contributed to struggles with him. And the same for Bryant, who has only caught half of his targets. But there’s but no such issue connecting with Smith-Schuster.
And there’s still Brown, Bell, and James. Yet his chemistry with Eli Rogers seems to have taken a step back. There’s no way that it is all down to just moving parts. He’s definitely struggling.
But it goes without saying that better rhythm and chemistry with his targets in the second half of the season would be an asset. Will we see that happen in the next eight games? I would think that the relationships to watch are that been the quarterback and Bryant and McDonald.