We got a chance last season to see what a great defense would look like with an anemic offense for the Pittsburgh Steelers in what was a perfect storm of injuries. Ben Roethlisberger played six quarters. James Conner played just 328 snaps of offense due to injuries. JuJu Smith-Schuster missed four games due to injury, but played through a toe injury almost all year. Vance McDonald was banged up by Week Three.
This year, we’re hoping to see what a competent offense can accomplish with a talented defense helmed by the likes of T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Joe Haden, Bud Dupree, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Devin Bush. A better offense should help the defense, since the offense had the fifth-worst average time of possession per drive last season, meaning quick turnarounds.
The Steelers’ offensive drives averaged just 2:28 minutes last year. The year before that, it was 2:44 minutes, which ranked 14th in the league. That might not sound like a huge difference, but when it’s an accumulation over something like 180 drives, that time adds up. And the year before that, they ranked third in the league with an average drive time of 2:52.
They went 13-3 that year, need I remind you, and a certain Ben Roethlisberger had a lot to do with that. There are few quarterbacks in the NFL who generate more positive plays for their team than he does, now or historically.
Pro Football Focus provides a bit of evidence toward that end. Since they began recording data in 2006, he has the fourth-highest rate of positively-graded plays among quarterbacks in the NFL. The only quarterbacks during that time ahead of him are Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers.
Highest rate of positively graded plays since 2006:
1. Jameis Winston
2. Cam Newton
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Ben Roethlisberger pic.twitter.com/kGm8pxKbmk
— PFF (@PFF) June 30, 2020
Of course, Winston and Newton also rank high on the list of negative-graded plays as well. Not every play is graded positively or negatively. In fact, most have neutral grades if there is nothing particularly notable about it.
While Roethlisberger may be a gunslinger at heart, he has never been a boom-or-bust, feast-or-famine guy. Sure, he’ll make a few dubious decisions per season—arguably many of them driven by an overconfidence that Antonio Brown would find a way to make a play—but he’s not in the same league as the 30-30 club Winston, or Newton, who is one of the most inaccurate passers in the game, in terms of actual ball placement relative to his target.
Roethlisberger has always had remarkable big-play ability, sometimes attributed to his ability to escape pressure and find a man down the field in broken coverage. However it ends up happening, suffice it to say that he has made a lot of big plays for this team, and will continue to do so.