The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is riding on who is playing at quarterback. The name, of course, will be Ben Roethlisberger, but which one will be available to them? If the same quarterback running the same plays from last season is under center—or rather out of the shotgun—this year, then it doesn’t seem many feel good about their prospects of taking this thing very far.
As you would likely imagine, Pro Football Focus is not exactly very high on the idea of Roethlisberger finding some sort of fountain of youth in what is likely his final season. He is 39 years old and has a surgically repaired throwing elbow. He couldn’t connect deep last season. He’s ranked 16th in their quarterback rankings heading into training camps:
Ben Roethlisberger proved his toughness by coming back at 38 years old after elbow surgery and helping the Steelers to an 11-0 start. But something just didn’t seem right during that hot streak, and Pittsburgh finished the year 1-5 in its last six games.
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a tall task in trying to figure out what will make this offense tick. Roethlisberger ranked last out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks on play-action attempts last season. He subsequently led the league in shotgun pass attempts (640) and pass attempts under 10 yards. He did a decent job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly, but it didn’t translate into many explosive plays, as the Steelers ranked 26th in explosive pass-play percentage (11.7%).
As is noted, the play-calling and what Roethlisberger is asked to do must play a critical variable. Gone is Randy Fichtner, whose offense evidently became so ineffective so frequently that Roethlisberger regularly felt compelled to put together plays at the line of scrimmage last season. Their scoring during scripted plays was awful. I don’t think they scored an opening-drive touchdown all season.
If Canada can get something out of Roethlisberger, and the offense as a whole, that Fichtner could not, then that would be a game-changer. That is one of the biggest ifs in the NFL. We’re talking about a novice NFL coordinator who rarely spent more than a couple years at any post at the college level. He’s very much unproven, even untested.
Of course, Roethlisberger’s receivers can help him out a lot this year by being more reliable. That doesn’t mean just dropping far fewer passes than they did a year ago, but also being more precise on their routes, establishing better timing than they had a year ago, and simply making more plays. There are plenty left out on the field in 2020 that Roethlisberger made the throw necessary to initiate.