Where else can this list possibly start than with the straw that stirs the drink?
Franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had endured a strange offseason. First, despite his apparent wishes to the contrary, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was "relieved" of his duties, "retiring" to Indianapolis. Then, Todd Haley was hired as his replacement, a decision that had many speculating about the potential turbulent working nature between the O.C. and Q.B. Finally, in a summer that saw wonderful Big Ben accomplishments, such as the announcement of his future fatherhood and his graduation from college, the bigger headlines in recent times have involved his comments about learning a new offensive system.
You would swear that "Rosetta Stone" was a curse word.
Oh, and did I mention that the owner asked Big Ben to "tweak" his play? One would have sworn that tweak meant "radically alter to an unidentifiable degree."
While the learning curve of a new offense will be a challenge, anyone who believes for a second that the system isn't tailor-made for the skills of No. 7—even a "tweaked" mold of the man—is out of his or her wits.
One look at last season's statistics reveals that Ben has room to show even more upside compared to 2011:
324-of-513 (comp/att); 4,077 yds; 63.2%, 7.9 ypa, 21 TD, 14 INT, 40 sacks
First and foremost, the Steelers have effectively made it common knowledge that they intend to run the ball more often next season. Ben's 513 passing attempts were the highest of his career, and that total will not be eclipsed next season.
However, as any real football fans knows, the "volume numbers" aren't the difference between winning and losing at the quarterback position. Efficiency is the key, and the real money maker is how a quarterback gets the most out of every throw; thus, indicators such as yards per attempt, touchdown/interception ratio and percentage and quarterback rating are the real measures of the man behind center.
In fact, with an improved offensive line, if the Steelers are able to better pass protect and run the ball (particularly the latter), the end result—courtesy of both play action passing and forcing defenses to honor both phases of the game—will be better efficiency stats.
This isn't to say Roethlisberger is not efficient; this IS to say he could be even more efficient in a better balanced offense, which would be largely dictated by two things: utilizing a system that is talent-oriented and featuring an improved offensive line.
Look at Ben's early career numbers. In his first two seasons, he averaged 8.9 yards per throw. From then to now, he still has the benefit of a great defense. However, he averaged such a lofty average despite inexperience. It's amazing what a running game and solid pass protection will do for efficiency.
The Steelers record was 29-5 over that stretch with Roethlisberger at the helm. While he's taken more onus of the offense today, make no mistake that the focus on improved line play and running the ball effectively will make the success rate per throw even more debilitating for defenses to contain.
Efficiency should be the focus for Big Ben this season, so long as it doesn't entirely compromise his style of play. For example, one key area for improvement is bolstering his average yards per attempt back above eight yards per throw.
Efficiency is not limited to numbers. It is also situational.
Extending the play is not an issue, so long as No. 7 knows when the play is actually lost. And likewise, taking timely chances is part of his charm, so long as a higher percentage of those risks than ever before fall in the Steelers' favor.
Asked to tweak his game, Art Rooney II had Ben's durability in mind. However, if he can focus on the finer nuances of the new offense and continually develop chemistry throughout the season with an already proven litany of talent, Ben could "tweak" in more ways than one.
In fact, why limit it to "tweaking?" Next season, Roethlisberger needs to focus on "peaking."
No. 7 should reveal himself to be a more disciplined gunslinger in 2012.
Of important note: Ben has started 16 games only once in his career, so I have to assume one game lost due to injury.
Projected 2012 Statistics, assuming 15 games played:
325-of-493 (comp/att); 4,250 yds; 66%, 8.6 ypa, 27 TD, 10 INT, 28 sacks