All offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have talked up how Ben Roethlisberger could be better following major, almost unprecedented elbow surgery on a 38 year old arm. So how exactly could there be improvement? To hear Roethlisberger tell it, being pain free could allow him to add a little extra oomph throwing downfield.
“One of the practices, I think last week, I wasn’t able to step into it and I threw a go-ball down the left sideline,” he told reporters during a Thursday Zoom call. “And it felt like when it came off my hand, I was gonna be short and it ended up making it there in stride. So I was pleasantly surprised with how my arm strength has come back. Maybe even a little better than it was before.”
A lack of a deep ball was an obvious cause for concern throughout the first half of 2018. At the time, Roethlisberger cited “WiFi” issues, not being on the same page as his wide receivers. That may have been true but perhaps his lingering, ever-present elbow pain also played a role.
The deep ball is something the Steelers’ offense missed a year ago. Pittsburgh completed just 18 passes of 30+ yards, ranking in the bottom third of the league, and a lack of explosive plays was one of the disappointing themes of the season.
This year, the Steelers offer plenty of weapons for Roethlisberger to test out that arm. JuJu Smith-Schuster is returning healthy, James Washington still managed to average over 16 yards per catch a year ago, along with new field stretchers in Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron. There’s also second-year receiver Diontae Johnson and veteran tight end Vance McDonald returning on offense. Those two players primarily make their impact on shorter routes.
To an extent, the “better than before” line was a bit of a tough sell given Roethlisberger’s age, the severity of the injury, and how uncommon it was. Very few quarterbacks regardless of age have torn three elbow flexor tendons. But if he truly is pain free and won’t wince when rearing up to throw downfield, he may sincerely be more effective in 2020.