Ben Roethlisberger said as recently as the start of last season that the mentality he has always taken to playing the quarterback position is that of a gunslinger. He’s going to take his shots down the field and try to make things happen, even if he has to do it off the script.
There have been rare moments of that in the early goings in 2020, most notably on his 28-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson back in week two, but by and large, we are seeing a quarterback who is playing a more risk-averse game so far, in particular in putting fewer balls in harm’s way.
This is not by happenstance, something that he discussed with reporters yesterday, noting that while some of his other statistics might not be exactly where he would hope them to be, part of it may stem from his doing his best to protect possession.
“I’m just trying not to turn the ball over”, he said. “Obviously, I’m not putting up big passing numbers and yards per attempt, all those things. I just don’t want to turn the ball over, so that is the biggest thing I am trying to work on. That is going to be the biggest challenge this week because this team I’m pretty sure leads the league in turnovers”.
According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger has only had two turnover-worthy plays so far this season, and if memory serves, both of them came back in week two. One was a foolish interception on one of those unscripted attempts, and there was another ball he threw that week that was nearly intercepted.
Beyond that, he has played some of the cleanest football of his career, which, to be perfectly honest, was the thing that I was looking for out of him most this season, outside of a base level of competence to handle the position.
While it is true that Roethlisberger comes from the John Elway, Brett Favre school of thought, it is also true that he had grown more erratic with his chance over the course of his career, which culminated in his leading the league with 16 interceptions in 2018, only a portion of the total number of turnover-worthy throws that he made that season.
As he mentioned, the Steelers are about to face a Cleveland Browns team that has forced more takeaways than any other team in the NFL so far this season, turning the ball over 12 times. The Steelers have just four giveaways so far in four games, three of them being lost fumbles (one coming on special teams).
This is the cleanest ball the offense has played in some time, and that has unquestionably been a factor in their ability to stack wins. That has to continue as the competition gets tougher. The Browns may not have an elite secondary, short of Denzel Ward, but their pass rush will force errors and cause fumbles as well.