One of the themes that has been a focus of Ben Roethlisberger’s season so far in 2020 has been the dynamics of his receivers, and this has been juxtaposed in particular to how the relationship between himself and his targets diverges from where it was at the height of the Antonio Brown era.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has alluded it to it multiple times now, hinting at the reality that everybody knew: that, at times, he was pressured by Brown to feed him the ball as often as possible, whether directly or indirectly, and that at times that led to some adversity, both within the game and otherwise.
It’s not a coincidence that he is frequently and repeatedly praising this 2020 squad and highlighting them for their selflessness and their genuine happiness for others around them making plays, which one can easily wonder about concerning Brown, and perhaps Le’Veon Bell as well.
Brown and Bell accounted for such a huge chunk of the Steelers’ offense during the prime of their careers that they might log half of the team’s receptions in a given year, and obviously with Bell logging 2-300 touches in the running game to boot.
That’s about the closest equivalent you will find to ‘hero ball’ at the skill positions in football, but it’s not what we’ve seen on this roster so far, with six players having at least 10 receptions, five with over 100 yards, and five different players seeing the end zone at the end of one of Roethlisberger’s passes.
Asked yesterday about what the pressure is like on a quarterback in trying to make sure that he keeps all of his receivers happy by giving them targets, Roethlisberger said, “there’s definitely more to it than everyone understands. Maybe someday I’ll write a book and talk about it. It’s not always easy. I feel for other quarterbacks sometimes”.
This is, frankly, a subject that quarterbacks rarely openly address, especially while they are active in their careers, but the reality is so stark and at the surface when it comes to his past relationship with Brown that there is really no point in concealing what everybody already knows. Brown has done everything short of writing a book called ‘Just Give Me the Damn Ball’—he has social media for that now.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool and James Washington and others surrounding him now, generally young players who are still on the rise, hungry for contributions but hungrier still to contribute toward a winner, the culture of the locker room, particularly at this position, might be the healthiest it has been in years. That doesn’t mean it’s the most talented, but, to quote a new Tomlinism, the strength of the pack is the pack. Lone wolves don’t get fed here any longer.