The evolution of Ben Roethlisberger has begun.
While you cannot overreact after one preseason game, it was very evident that the Pittsburgh Steelers were working on areas to improve their offense—and Roethlisberger.
Back in January, team president Art Rooney II told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Roethlisberger needed to “tweak” his game.
With new offensive coordinator Todd Haley in place, that is exactly what is occurring.
What did we see in the Steelers’ first preseason game?
Three-step drops, short passes, throwing to the running back—yeah, this offense has a different feel. But this is not the offense you will see in the regular season, as indicated by Roethlisberger after the game.
He said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "We were very limited tonight. Well, I don’t want to say limited, but we didn’t have a lot tonight, we kept it simple and we just tried to go out and play against someone else."
That is exactly what the Steelers did, and their effort was pretty good.
Haley had a plan for the first-team offense and they executed fairly well—for the first game—behind the play of Roethlisberger.
If nothing else, any suspicion of conflict between Haley and Roethlisberger can be squashed, as Roethlisberger is buying into the new offensive philosophy.
Roethlisberger is taking command of Haley’s offense and has had an excellent camp overall.
Besides working closely with Haley, Roethlisberger has been a true leader on the field. He directs his teammates and puts them in the best position to succeed.
If a receiver does not execute a route, Roethlisberger has that receiver run that route again until he gets it right.
These are the little things that help a quarterback get on the same page with his receivers and can make the difference between an incomplete pass or a big play.
Last Thursday, some of that hard work began to pay off.
The clear focus of the game was to work on the screen pass and getting the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands quickly.
The start of the game was nearly flawless for Roethlisberger, as he completed seven of eight passes for 49 yards. The only thing that he didn’t do was lead the team to a touchdown.
Roethlisberger’s first pass was a designed screen in which he lobbed the ball over a couple of defenders to Isaac Redman for a five-yard gain.
Hitting the running backs out of the backfield is one area where Roethlisberger has needed improvement. He'd rather throw the ball downfield than take the safe option.
That is why it was encouraging to see Roethlisberger’s next two passes.
On a 3rd-and-3, Roethlisberger had a quick three-step drop—another area that he needed to tweak—and hit David Johnson for a seven-yard gain and a first down.
Roethlisberger connected with Johnson for a six-yard gain on his next pass attempt. It was off of a play-action pass in which Roethlisberger had a deep drop, but no one was open downfield.
These are the types of plays where Roethlisberger needs to use his safety outlet rather than take an unnecessary hit.
Another play that the Steelers can use to avoid contact on Roethlisberger is the roll out, and he had one completion on a quick roll-out pass to Antonio Brown.
Just about every change that you could ask for from Roethlisberger occurred.
He is already a quarterback, but using all of his options on the field will not only help keep Roethlisberger off the ground, but will make him even better.
Just because he is making changes, though, does not mean that Roethlisberger won’t be the same playmaker he has always been.
Roethlisberger had a vintage scramble on a shotgun play when he avoided pressure to complete a pass to Chris Rainey, and he demonstrated his deadly pump fake on several occasions.
By infusing his backyard, gunslinger style of play with the more conservative option of throwing to the running backs and tight ends, Roethlisberger will lead the Steelers’ offense to new heights.
It is only one game, but the early returns are good.
As Roethlisberger becomes more comfortable with the new playbook, the offense should only continue to improve.
We have only begun to see the new and improved Roethlisberger. The best is yet to come.