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: Fixing the run game would be enough to carry a Ben Roethlisberger near the end of the line.
Explanation: As of right now, it’s expected that Ben Roethlisberger will be ready to play for his 17th season in 2020. Nobody really has any idea what he will look like when he does. The 37-year old had surgery on his throwing elbow back in the fall, and he hasn’t thrown a ball since.
It’s a lot easier to get on board with this question right now when you watch the 2019 season, which featured some of the most successful running games that we’ve seen in years. The Baltimore Ravens, for example, became the first team in NFL history to average 200 yards both passing and rushing for a full season. Their steam was taken out of their sails with Mark Ingram’s injury, however.
We also just saw the San Francisco 49ers literally run through the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. I think Jimmy Garoppolo finished with eight pass attempts. I think Roethlisberger could manage that if the Steelers can put together a healthy backfield and get more creative with their schemes. The running game didn’t have much chance last year without much of a passing threat.
They still won’t have much of a passing threat with a wounded duck quarterback, though. Roethlisberger will have to at least prove he can still throw the ball prolifically when he has to, the way Garoppolo has done, if they hope to have the same sort of success. That’s just to open up the run game, which doesn’t guarantee it will be successful.
Part of the discussion also has to be the realistic possibility of fixing the run game. The Steelers don’t have the personnel to do it and can’t realistic get it. The offensive line is geared toward pass protection, they don’t have a plus blocker at tight end, they haven’t had success running with a fullback. They can gain some through scheme, but not enough to shoulder the load. This offense still needs a quality Ben Roethlisberger to go anywhere, period, full stop, end of discussion.