The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will set a new career-high in passing touchdowns in 2019.
Explanation: Roethlisberger’s 34 touchdown passes thrown last season was the most he has ever thrown, but he has thrown 32 more than once, so it’s not a significant outlier. Antonio Brown’s 15 touchdowns are gone, but in its place is a myriad of young and developing players waiting for that opportunity to step up.
One thing that might not be immediately obvious that will contribute to a higher passing touchdown number in 2019 is the fact that the Steelers had more rushing touchdowns than they normally have had, including 12 from James Conner, which is tied for the 12th-most in a single season in team history and the most since 2010. But Roethlisberger and Stevan Ridley also contributed four combined for 16 on the year. That’s the most since 2015, a year in which Roethlisberger missed four games. Fewer rushing touchdowns figures to equate to more passing touchdowns.
Brown’s absence has to be noted, but you also have to figure that JuJu Smith-Schuster will become a more productive scorer as well, with seven in each of his first two seasons. The running back and tight end positions with Vance McDonald, Conner, and Jaylen Samuels have also shown the possibility of contributing more aerial scores. And a guy like Diontae Johnson can create separation in the red zone similar to Brown that can be exploited.
The odds of a player with a long career suddenly setting a new personal-best are almost always going to be long, so that’s the argument we have to start off here. Roethlisberger has never thrown 35 touchdowns in a season before, so why would he suddenly do it now?
He’s not. It took a career year in scoring from Brown, who is no longer with the team, to even get it to happen. Brown is the only player in team history to ever score more than 12 receiving touchdowns in a season for the Steelers, and he did it twice, plus a 12-score year. Nobody on the current roster has ever scored more than seven touchdowns in a season, so that would take at least five players to tally up 35 touchdowns.