ESPN: Steelers Believe Ben Roethlisberger Must Be a Top-10 QB to Contend for Playoffs

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 22, 2021

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to pass during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on August 21, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly "believe" Ben Roethlisberger must perform like a top-10 quarterback for them to contend for the 2021 NFL playoffs.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Sunday on SportsCenter the Steelers are growing more confident in Big Ben based on his performance in training camp and during his preseason debut Saturday against the Detroit Lions, which included two touchdown passes:

"Pittsburgh liked that he was aggressive. They want to move the ball downfield a little bit more this year. Last year was a little bit of a dink-and-dunk offense. But, I gotta tell ya, the Steelers are not surprised that Roethlisberger is throwing the ball well because he had conveyed to the team a while ago this offseason that his arm felt better in year two coming off the elbow surgery.
"So, they think he can still sling it. Maybe not like a 25 year-old Big Ben, but they believe he has to be a top-10 quarterback for them to be a playoff contender. So, he's prepared to be that for them. And the media's not very high on the Steelers this year coming in, but I know people around the league still believe they can be a factor. We know they're going to have a good defense, but they have a lot of weapons on offense for a quarterback that looks to have a renewed spirit right now."

Roethlisberger completed eight of his 10 throws for 137 yards with the two scores and no interceptions against the Lions.

"I'm just trying to win a football game," the seven-time Pro Bowl selection told reporters. "It's the preseason and I wanted to stay healthy. It was good to be out there and playing."

He added: "My arm feels pretty good compared to last year. I felt good, but I didn't know how it should feel. It feels pretty good right now."

Perhaps most promising for the Steelers was Roethlisberger threw several passes downfield with relative ease. The offense was often restricted to short throws last year as his arm appeared to wear down at times in his return to the field after making just two appearances in 2019 before elbow surgery.

The 39-year-old Ohio native still posted solid numbers in 2020 with 33 touchdowns in 15 games, but he only threw for 3,803 yards after compiling 5,129 yards across 16 appearances in 2018.

Getting the element of the deep ball back into the offense would be a major boost for the Steelers, who feature one of the NFL's best receiving groups with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington.

If Roethlisberger returns to form, the Steelers certainly have the talent to contend in the AFC as the offense would be far more potent to go along with a defense that ranked third in both yards (305.8) and points (19.5) allowed per game last season.

They'll face plenty of competition for the playoff spots out of the AFC North, however, with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns also entering the year with Super Bowl aspirations. So Pittsburgh won't have a ton of margin for error.

The Steelers open the regular season Sept. 12 when they visit the Buffalo Bills, who reached the AFC Championship Game last season, for an immediate litmus test.