After completing eight of 10 passes in his first and perhaps only preseason appearance for 138 yards and two touchdowns, it is understandable that the reviews of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s performance on Saturday have skewed heavily positive.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 39-year-old captain certainly played well, though perhaps those ‘vintage’ moments that showed up in the game weren’t necessarily what they appeared to be on the surface. His scrambling on the third play of the game, in particular, was not exactly what he had in mind.
“I’m just trying to win a football game, even though it’s preseason, and stay healthy”, he said about the scramble after the game. “I don’t really want or need to scramble around a lot, it just kind of happened like that”.
Roethlisberger, of course, made a career out of scrambling in the pocket early in his career, known for shrugging off defenders and completing passes for big plays down the field once the coverage finally broke down five seconds after the snap.
That hasn’t been his game for a long time, as he has become one of the most quick-release passers in the NFL, which he took to another level last season. But it was still good to see him with even that modest level of mobility as he displayed on that play.
One thing that has always been there and will always be is perhaps the most deceptive pump fake in the game, which we saw multiple times during the game. But one of the reasons they’re so convincing is because many of them are not designed to hold onto the ball.
“The pump fake wasn’t an intentional pump fake”, he said of the second touchdown to Pat Freiermuth, while also expressing disappointment in his one downfield connection. “I was gonna throw it, [but] he was still leaning on the guy, so I wasn’t quite ready. And the deep ball to Diontae [Johnson], I didn’t like the throw. I think I put too much air on it. Luckily for me, he’s a heck of a football player, and he made a play for me”.
While the pump fake isn’t going away any time soon, and Roethlisberger has looked to be as mobile as he has been in a number of years, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t anticipate him scrambling all over the field like it’s 15 years ago.
But it’s better to have that mobility in the holster in those moments when it can lead to a play. It used to be that he came to rely on those unscripted moments to move the ball down the field. Now that he’s a capable rhythm passer—and has arthritic knees—that’s no longer a desired outcome.