After last year’s perfect 11-0 start ended in disappointment, the Pittsburgh Steelers are eyeing another playoff trip in 2021. That means most of the pressure will lie with a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger.
As the 2020 season wore on, it became increasingly clear that the Steelers’ starting quarterback was far from healthy. He struggled to move the ball down the field and seemed to be showing signs of age. Pittsburgh lost four of its last five games and lost in a messy first-round playoff game to the Cleveland Browns.
This fall will present Roethlisberger with a clean slate, but will also come with a fresh set of challenges. For former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum, the time for the aging quarterback to return to his top form has already passed.
“It’s over [for Ben Roethlisberger]. It’s over,” Tannenbaum said on Wednesday’s edition of Get Up. “You’re paying a player for what he’s done, not what he’s going to do. And he was a great player, an all-time great, but it is over.
“He is not going to play as well as he has and he is not going to be as comfortable as he used to be. He gets rid of the ball way too fast. Until he knows that he has solidified protection, I don’t think he’s going to be nearly what he once was.”
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) August 4, 2021
Wednesday wasn’t the first time that Tannenbaum has pounded on the table to predict Roethlisberger’s demise this upcoming season. Back in early July, he claimed that the Steelers would bench the 39-year-old in the middle of the season.
Despite Pittsburgh’s stunning first round playoff exit, Roethlisberger appeared to be a competent NFL starter for most of the regular season. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 2020.
However, Roethlisberger’s yards per pass attempt plummeted to just 6.3 yards per throw, the lowest mark of his career in a full season. A lingering elbow injury held the Steelers quarterback from throwing down the field, as he instead opted for quick releases to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
Roethlisberger’s cast of star-studded wide receivers will at least be back in full force this fall. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are all back in Pittsburgh and will give their quarterback one of the most explosive pass-catching units in the league.
Even more importantly, the Steelers revamped their offensive line this offseason, turning toward younger players to try and give Roethlisberger more consistent protection up front. The move may come with some growing pains, but should help give the veteran quarterback additional time to hold onto the football.
If he is fully healthy, Roethlisberger has a chance to lead the Steelers through the talented AFC North and back into the postseason. But if his health somehow worsens, fans in Pittsburgh should be worried.