While there is some optimism about the Pittsburgh Steelers for the upcoming season and their potential to make an impact with the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it’s understandable that it’s also a cautious optimism, because it’s hard to predict what an aging quarterback coming off an elbow injury to his throwing arm is going to look like.
That was Stephen A. Smith’s concern in speaking about the Steelers recently, more specifically pertaining to whether or not the running game could be a significant enough complement to the passing game to cover up those concerns.
“Listen, James Conner is no scrub. He can play. But clearly it’s a significant drop-off from Le’Veon Bell, number one. Number two, his durability is a huge question mark. We can’t ignore that either”, he said, and these are fair points to be sure.
“I think that with Big Ben being as old as he is, he’s a big guy, he’s been shoving off oncoming defenders. We get that. It’s not like he escapes and he outruns people. He just has tremendous pocket presence and tremendous strength to ward people off”.
“As he gets older, is he going to be able to do that?”, Smith asked. “Are guys gonna be able to get open [fast enough]? Are you gonna be able to ward off folks from keying on your passing game because they’re not really worried about your running game? I think that’s a huge question mark with the Steelers right now”.
Right now, all Roethlisberger is doing is tossing footballs in his own backyard, since there isn’t much else that he can do. He has acknowledged that he is throwing at about 60 percent exertion right now, in part because he knows there is no reason to stress himself with the reality that the offseason program is not on the horizon.
Still, it’s hard to see this year as anything but dependent upon Roethlisberger not only staying on the field, but playing at a high level, regardless of how strong the defense might be. That still only got them to an 8-8 record last year.
“There is no Antonio Brown anymore”, Smith said. “You’ve got JuJu Smith-Schuster, you’re looking at him. And I know what he can do. I think they picked up Ebron if I remember correctly. When I look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, my question mark right now—I love the fact that their defense has seemed to have improved tremendously—my issue with them right now believe it or not is their running game”.
Can James Conner and company take some of the pressure off of Roethlisberger and his surgically-repaired elbow? The last time he played a full season, he threw nearly 700 passes, and they still only went 9-6-1, missing the playoffs.