In case you haven’t been paying attention, smack in the middle of a dreadful 5-8 season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having a career year. This is all happening amidst reports that Roethlisberger might want to be traded at the end of the season.
Said reports have never really been completely refuted or verified, but all things considered, it is hard to imagine a quarterback playing so well, and in a quarterback-starved league, being traded regardless of how tempting the offer.
But why this year? What is so different about this year that has put Roethlisberger on a track to finish among the top five in passing in the league?
Let’s take a look at three key areas that have contributed. But first, let's compare Roethlisberger's two best seasons to a projection for this year, with stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference.
|Yard per attempt||8.5||7.5||7.5|
|Def yards allowed||12th||1st||15th|
|Def points allowed||5th||1st||12th|
|Pro Football Reference|
Roethlisberger can already make a case for being the greatest quarterback in franchise history, which is a tall order when you consider Terry Bradshaw is in the Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls without the benefit of being surrounded by a cast of Hall of Fame players like Bradshaw had. Not to mention that, with Roethlisberger, there’s nothing that says Big Ben can’t play five or six more seasons at a high level.
What are the key factors that have Roethlisberger playing so well this season, and that have his future with the franchise secured? Here are some ideas.
Not only does Roethlisberger look to be playing with more trust in the system, but it is clear that offensive coordinator Todd Haley also has more trust in Roethlisberger. Last season, the offense felt forced on Roethlisberger, and when he tried to freestyle, it was typically met with little or no success.
This season, however, it is easy to see where Haley and Roethlisberger have found common ground: Haley’s desire to use the screen game and horizontal passing as an extension of the run, and Roethlisberger’s gunslinger attitude on deep play action and plays extended with his legs.
The inclusion of more no-huddle has also been a compromise that has allowed Big Ben to flourish. Throughout his career, Roethlisberger has been a rhythm quarterback who likes to work within his own parameters.
Being able to dictate the tempo by picking up the pace has dipped his yards per attempt, but it makes increased attempts more acceptable.
Talent at the skill positions
Let’s be honest. Roethlisberger’s corps of skill players is pretty impressive.
The group is headlined by wideout Antonio Brown, who is the best receiver in the league no one ever talks about. With three games left, Brown has 90 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. He has become Roethlisberger’s go-to guy.
However, Brown is just one of five key weapons Ben has at his disposal. Fellow wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery flank Brown and utilize their unique skill sets to their advantages.
It seems each week Roethlisberger finds a different weapon with which to beat opposing defenses. The other two potential weapons are tight end Heath Miller and running back Le’Veon Bell. Both have proven to be dependable targets who can get the tough, physical yards.
Struggles on defense
As hard as it is to admit, a big part of why Roethlisberger has put up such gaudy stats this season is because his defense has forced him to.
What was once one of the most dominating defenses in the league, the Steel Curtain has looked more like a shower curtain.
The Steelers defense has allowed 20 points or more 10 times, and 30 or more five times. When your defense is constantly putting the offense back on the field, it stands to reason the offense is going to put up numbers.
This has been one of the worst defensive showings of Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, as good as Roethlisberger has been, it hasn’t equated to wins, and that is what this league is all about.
I’m sure that Roethlisberger would trade it all for a shot at the playoffs. Can’t really fault him too much, as he’s doing all he can with very little help from the other side of the football.
Going forward, this team must continue to build around Roethlisberger. Whether that is bolstering the defense to give him a break, adding to a struggling offensive line or replacing soon-to-be-gone skill players, when you have an elite franchise quarterback, you have to seize the opportunities he provides.
And this year, Roethlisberger has given them the chance to be much better than their record indicates. Can anyone really think that a quarterback playing so well could end up on another team? This would be a near unprecedented move, and to be honest foolish by the Steelers front office if they entertain the notion. Roethlisberger's legacy with the franchise is one of great success and nothing that he has done this year could sway anyone away from that.
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