The 2019 season was unlike any other in recent Pittsburgh Steelers history, but hopefully for entirely different reasons that the 2020 season will be unlike any other. While this season will be played under pandemic conditions, it will still be played with Ben Roethlisberger under center.
The Steelers didn’t have that for almost all of last season, and it was obvious. The most striking example of that was the fact that the offense went from finishing first in red zone efficiency to 32nd from one year to the next. In a league, I might remind you, that contains 32 teams.
Having Roethlisberger back out on the field, even in a training camp setting, has been rejuvenating for the offense, as many of his teammates have talked about over the past week. While no slight to Devlin Hodges or Mason Rudolph, when you have a Hall of Fame quarterback on the field who is still playing like it, there is no comparison, and for key reasons especially for those who have played with him for a while.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just timing”, Vance McDonald said about one of the biggest improvements he’s seen in training camp from last season. “When you have a quarterback step in that you’re not used to working with, with Mason and Duck, last year, interchangeably, there’s just timing, there’s things that you normally don’t have to focus on with Ben, such as camaraderie, what to expect here and there, communications and routes”.
“It all changes”, he added. “Every quarterback has their different style. So with Ben back, obviously, it’s gonna be the biggest point of emphasis for our offense moving forward, and this season, I’m not afraid to say it, as he goes, we all go. And I’m loving what I’m seeing from him”.
While many on the outside have said it, I’m not sure many on the inside have been really open about saying what we all more or less know, which is that the Steelers will only go as far this season as Roethlisberger is able to take them.
Having a great defense is a big deal, and can accomplish a lot for you. But at some point in time, you need quality quarterback play, even for the best Super Bowl teams. Joe Flacco had a great run in 2012. Seattle had a great defense in 2013, but they already had a Pro Bowler in Russell Wilson, who posted a quarterback rating over 100 in each of his first two seasons (and in most seasons since).
McDonald has become one of Roethlisberger’s closest confidants heading into the former’s fourth season in Pittsburgh, and it’s no wonder, as he had a career year in their most complete season working together in 2018—which was also Roethlisberger’s career-best in many ways. But despite their relationship, I’m sure there are few who doubt that he’s right in saying that the quarterback will dictate how far this team goes in 2020.