All eyes remain on veteran Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ahead of the 2021 season for a number of reasons.
For starters, it could be the final season in a Hall of Fame career, so people want to get their final fix as much as possible. The largest reason though is many seem to believe what Roethlisberger shows up is just a complete unknown, which will make or break the Steelers’ chances in 2021.
If it’s early-2020 Roethlisberger, the Steelers will be in contention without a doubt. If it’s the Roethlisberger that appeared down the stretch last season, it could be a rough season.
I’m betting it will be closer to the latter with Roethlisberger, who seemed to fade with a significantly heavy workload in a predictable offense. That should change in 2021 under Matt Canada with a renewed commitment to the run game with the drafting of Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth and Kendrick Green in hopes of taking some of the load off of Roethlisberger’s right arm.
Ahead of the 2021 season though, Bleacher Report identifies Roethlisberger as the team’s biggest question mark.
“The biggest question facing the Steelers as we move through the summer is a player who may well not do much during it. After 17 seasons in the National Football League, Ben Roethlisberger knows as much about playing quarterback as anyone in the Steel City ever has. The question is whether the 39-year-old has enough left in the tank to lead the Steelers on one last deep playoff run,” writes Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport.
At 39 years old and nearly two years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, it’s a relatively fair question Davenport poses. However, that question is posed assuming that Roethlisberger must be the gunslinger of old, throwing the ball 40 times a game lighting up opposing defenses.
If he has to be the Roethlisberger of old, that means the commitment to the run game has stagnated, meaning a a deep playoff run is unlikely.
Should the Steelers make a deep playoff run, Roethlisberger will need to not have as much of a workload as he’s had in years past, meaning the Steelers should be bludgeoning teams on the ground and suffocating them defensively, allowing Roethlisberger to pick and choose his spots to showcase his Hall of Fame talent.
The team that I consistently come back to that went on to win a Super Bowl with an aging, physically declining QB is the 2015 Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning. Now, Roethlisberger is nowhere near as physically sapped as Manning was then, but the Steelers could take a blueprint from how Denver did it, leaning heavily on the running game and allowing Manning to pick and choose his spots based on matchups identified pre-snap, while deploying a punishing defense on the other side of the ball.
Entering Year 18, Roethlisberger will have to learn some new verbiage under Canada’s new offense, but there’s very little defenses can throw at him this year that he probably hasn’t already seen, so it’s not like he’ll be confused. He’ll have to buy into taking on a lesser workload with an emphasis on the run game again if he wants to put a third ring on his hand.
But back to Davenport’s question: Roethlisberger’s play and relative health shouldn’t be the Steelers’ biggest question mark. It’s probably the easiest, considering Roethlisberger’s stature, but there are bigger questions on this roster than Roethlisberger, specifically the rebuilt offensive line and the lack of depth in the secondary.