Koll: Why We’ll See A Better, More Efficient Ben Roethlisberger in 2019

Matt Koll
August 23, 2019 - 12:48 pm
Ben Roethlisberger

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - It was a weird year for Ben Roethlisberger in 2018 for many reasons. From calling out teammates on his radio show, to a controversy involving a rib injury and an X-ray machine in Oakland, to the heaping of national criticism hurled his way for his leadership qualities, things got whacky for Ben. It was a whacky year for the Steelers franchise in fact, with drama and disappointments abound, epitomized by its 9-6-1 record that left it outside of the playoffs.

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That aside, Roethlisberger saw what may have been the most premier talent around him in his career in 2018, with weapons all around and mouths to feed everywhere he looked.

The result?

Lots of numbers. Both good and bad.

Roethlisberger obliterated his career high in passing attempts with 675. In fact, he led the league in that category. He also set a career high and led the league with 5,129 passing yards; he and Patrick Mahomes were the only ones to pass for over 5,000.

It doesn’t stop there.

Roethlisberger also led the league in completions (452), pass attempts per game (42.2) and passing yards per game (320.6).

So, what was the bad?

Despite the gaudy accumulated numbers, Roethlisberger’s overall QB rating (96.5) was just 14th in the league among quarterbacks with at least 400 passing attempts.  He also was the league leader in something much more distasteful: interceptions. With 16.

All in all, Ben Roethlisberger certainly wasn’t the reason the Steelers went 9-6-1 and missed the postseason. But I believe Ben is bound for a better season in 2019 and it may not necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

Here’s why (in no particular order):

-No Antonio Brown. You saw that right. While AB’s talents were immense and he made plays that few others can make in the NFL currently or in league history, he was also a demanding presence. We all saw what he did on the sidelines when he wasn’t getting the ball enough. Whether it was a water cooler being tossed or a shouting match with members of the coaching staff or just a general pouting session on the bench, AB is/was a diva receiver. It came with the territory. I’m not naïve enough to think that Ben didn’t cater to him throughout the year last year to pump him footballs and sling it his way to keep him happy, even if he wasn’t necessarily open. It should be noted that some of that blame falls on Ben for doing so and thinking Brown could make something out of nothing on every pass attempt.  I would notice this particularly in the 1st quarter, right off the bat, Ben would try to establish Brown into the game whether he was open or not. Forcing the ball is how many of his 16 picks came to fruition. The walking on eggshells, the pressure, and the potential headache is gone and it leads to my next point…

-Ben can now spread the ball out more freely. This is when he’s at his best. Roethlisberger has been known throughout his career to spread the love, and now with a receiving corps that features new, young players who are hungry to prove themselves, Ben can distribute freely. He’s got free range to see what he has in these guys without fear of someone’s giant ego being hurt (please keep it that way, JuJu).This is the same quarterback that took three young and hungry receivers in Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sander and Antonio Brown and somehow made it work so that all three found success both in Pittsburgh and beyond. I’m not saying a combination of JuJu, Moncrief, Washington and Johnson are as good as the “Young Money” crew of the past but the precedent remains. As long as these receivers don’t get completely enveloped by the stage, Ben will allow them to thrive.

-More established running back options. It was a coming out party for James Conner last year. Then he got hurt. Then Jaylen Samuels burst onto the scene with an ability to both run the ball well in spurts and, more importantly for this point, catch the ball out of the backfield. I think the tandem of Conner and Samuels will be beneficial to Ben in two ways. The first is that I think they now have the ability to spell each other and keep each other fresh. Often times fresh legs mean a better running game in today’s NFL. But also, both are receiving threats. James Conner was fourth among NFL running backs in routes run per game and Jaylen Samuels caught 26 passes for 199 yards and 3 TD’s despite only appearing in nine games last year. The short option pass out of the backfield to these potential playmakers can only bode well for Roethlisberger’s efficiency  and can really help drive those interceptions numbers down by not having to take so many shots down the field.  

-Better defense helping him out.I’ll be honest, this is kind of a hopeful one. The Steelers had 10 games in which they gave 21 points or more in 2019. There was a clear priority placed on improving the roster defensively this offseason with the signings of cornerback Steven Nelson and safety/linebacker Mark Barron as well as trading up to take speedy linebacker Devin Bush 10th overall in the draft. There’s a lot of hype around Bud Dupree right now and if he can be a formidable force alongside TJ Watt, maybe more turnovers are forced and all of the sudden this defense looks more like the ones we’re used to winning Steelers team having. A more manageable scoreboard keeps the offense from having to play catch up or feeling the need to press down the field. I’m hopeful Ben and the Steelers will do less of that this year.

Overall, I believe will be a more efficient quarterback and ultimately better for this team. I don’t think he is at his best when he throws almost 700 times. I don’t want stats-accumulator Ben. I don’t think it’s a wise idea to have a quarterback who’s already more of a “gunslinger” throw that many times.

Losing a top option like Brown, spreading the ball out while having a stronger running game and a stronger defense will serve Roethlisberger well.

We might end up with a stat line that looks like 4,200 passing yards instead of 5,129. 28 touchdowns instead of 34. Some of the dynamic plays we’ve grown accustomed to won’t be there as frequently. But I think he could cut his interceptions to a way more manageable 9 or 10.

He’ll be better for it and ultimately, so will the Steelers.   

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