For roughly the first half of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, it could be said that he made his offensive line look worse than it was, due to his tendencies to hold on to the football too long. That was a combination of his still learning out to read defenses, his consciously looking for the bigger play, and his utter reluctance to ever throw the ball away.
That all began to change when the Pittsburgh Steelers ‘retired’ Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator and hired Todd Haley, essentially with the edict to help protect Roethlisberger from himself. It took some time, but he helped the veteran backyard gunslinger to change his style, to the point where he has developed one of the quickest snap-to-throw times in the league.
Between 2016 and 2018, the Steelers ranked among the best in the league in terms of percentage of passing plays allowing pressure, hovering at or below the 20 percent mark. Last season, without Roethlisberger on the field, that number ballooned to 35 percent—the second-worst mark in the league, according to ESPN Next Gen Stats.
Can the #Steelers offense rebound with the return of Ben Roethlisberger?
Big Ben’s quick pass tendencies (2.57 avg TTT) helped keep pressure under 20% for three straight seasons (2016-2018).
In 2019, however, Steelers QBs faced pressure on 35% of dropbacks (31st in NFL). pic.twitter.com/wb1hiAAIGk
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) May 8, 2020
While some of that can be traced back to the offensive line, a lot of the blame does go to the quarterbacks, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. Both of them frequently showed poor pocket awareness, their sluggishness with getting through their reads resulting in them holding onto the ball for well over three seconds.
Equally big issues were their struggles with pre-snap reads, unable to diagnose where the pressure would be coming from and resetting the protection, as well as their failures to stay within the pocket or area of protection while they have the ball. Both of them are responsible for creating much of their own pressure because they would drift into it, perhaps because their eyes were too focused downfield to pay attention to what was in front of their faces.
Between the two of them, for example, Pro Football Focus places the blame for a total of 26 pressures on the young quarterbacks, and I think that might even be being generous.
That’s not to dismiss any and all concerns about the offensive line, by any means. While I’m not among those who believe that Alejandro Villanueva or Maurkice Pouncey has suddenly fallen off the cliff, for example, both of them had their worst seasons in years.
So did Ramon Foster, though who is now retired, and it’s reasonable to believe that whoever replaces him could be an upgrade over the 11-year veteran’s most recent performance. That would be either Matt Feiler, who graded out well in pass protection at right tackle, or Stefen Wisniewski, who though often a reserve in recent years, has always been credited as intelligent and skilled in pass protection.