2022 Offseason Questions: Did Steelers Hinder Growth Of Offense By Sticking With Big Ben In 2021?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Did the Steelers make a mistake and stunt their own offensive developments by holding on to Ben Roethlisberger for one season too long?

While certainly not a new one, a topic that came up in conversation in one of our articles posted yesterday was the Steelers’ decision, despite changing offensive coordinators and making virtually wholesale changes along the offensive line, to stick with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for one more season.

It is naturally understood, and understandable, that reasons beyond winning (e.g., sentiment), were also in play when discussing Roethlisberger’s return for one final, 18th season in 2021 at the age of 39. And he did record a league-leading number of game-winning drives while taking the Steelers to the postseason one last time.

But the question is, and let’s try not to make this too much about hindsight with regards to the Steelers’ actual 2021 win-loss results, did the Steelers hinder themselves for the future by sticking with Roethlisberger one extra year, rather than going all-in on adapting Matt Canada’s offense and preparing for the offense that they hired him to run?

Everybody on offense is talking about how Canada changed up the terminology from last season, but that’s really no so much of a big deal—especially when the starting quarterback is almost surely going to be new to the team anyway.

But there are also talks about scheme changes. Mason Rudolph has talked about learning new parts of the offense. (Almost) every offense evolves every year in at least subtle ways, and that certainly wouldn’t be unexpected for an offensive coordinator entering just his second season.

And we also can’t forget the fact that a lot of the offense is new. But how big of a deal is it for guys like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, who just learned an offense last year? The scheme isn’t radically different, at least we can assume, and that should be noted. It might not actually be a significant difference even under normal circumstances from one season to the next in a young and growing offense.

But the question persists: did the Steelers, in some small but potentially meaningful way, stunt the growth of their offense by not implementing core elements of what it was intended to be until year two, in deference to a quarterback who was on his way out—even if they had genuine hopes of actually winning last year?

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