The Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule was revealed yesterday, including the times that each game will take place, and how it fits into the schedules of their opponents, all the nuances of which will be endlessly dissected throughout the blogosphere in many ways that will prove to be unimportant or potentially even irrelevant by the time those games actually take place.
There is one clear game that is more important than any other, though, and we only knew against which opponent it would be yesterday. That will be the game against the New York Giants. The Steelers will visit one of the oldest franchises in the NFL for their season opener. That is when they hope to have Ben Roethlisberger back on the field, and it is for that reason alone that it is bigger than any other.
Roethlisberger, entering his 17th season, suffered a season-ending elbow injury last year, limited to just six quarters of action over the course of the first two weeks of the 2019 regular season. He would ultimately have surgery on his elbow, the details of which have never been revealed, but the team has remained consistently optimistic about his recovery process, which Mike Tomlin maintained last night in speaking to the NFL Network.
“As we sit here today, we’re extremely confident in his readiness”, he said of Roethlisberger being on the field for the Giants game. “We’re enjoying the process that he’s going through right now. Obviously, it’s not without angst. The guy’s coming off of a season-ending injury and surgery. But we like where we are. He’s throwing on a rehab schedule, it’s going well, and we fully anticipate him being ready to go for that opener”.
Roethlisberger has started every opener since 2010, the year that he served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. Before that year, that was the most time that he had missed in a single season during his career, or at least tied with the 2005 and 2015 seasons. He has started every other opener since 2005.
During the 2018 season, he played in all 16 games, completing 452 of 675 pass attempts (a 67-percent completion rate) for a league-high 5129 yards and a franchise-record 34 touchdowns. In six quarters last season, he completed just 35 of 62 attempts for 351 yards with zero touchdown passes and one interception.
While the defense took major strides during the 2019 season, the play at the quarterback position limited the Steelers’ potential. They lost their final three games despite holding opponents to under 20 points. They only put up 10 points in each of those games.
Despite the play of the quarterback position, the front office and coaching staff has been content to leave the backup spots as-is, returning all four quarterbacks who were with the team at the end of last season: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett. The goal is for none of them to play, unless the Steelers are in the midst of a blowout, or have secured homefield advantage.