Sports

Does Big Ben even have anything left to run it back with?


Just keep handing it off, dude.

Just keep handing it off, dude.
Image: Getty Images

One last run for the Pittsburgh Steelers and future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The last ride for the six-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion is about ready to take off into the regular season. But how much does Big Ben have left at this point? Enough for a last dance?

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This is precisely what the football world is wondering at this point. Roethlisberger’s stats weren’t bad last year. He threw 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. But watching Roethlisberger throw the ball at times was painful.

Any velocity Roethlisberger may have possessed before the elbow injury in 2019 seemed to be gone. Now, it may not have been as bad as Peyton Manning in his final year, but it wasn’t pretty either. Despite Ben’s noticeable lack of strength throwing the ball, the Steelers dropped back to pass 608 times during the 2020-21 regular season. Having the NFL’s worst rushing attack last season undoubtedly contributed to Roethlisberger being asked to throw the ball 40 times per game.

(Don’t feel too bad for Ben — let’s not forget he’s an all-time scumbag.)

This year should be different after drafting Alabama stand-out Najee Harris in the first round of April’s draft. Having Harris in the backfield should take tons of pressure off Roethlisberger to make a play with his arm nearly every down. The Steelers don’t need Ben to make every offensive play, nor should they want him to. Especially with that tell.

In this stage of Roethlisberger’s career, offensive coordinator Matt Canada should limit the number of passes Roethlisberger has to make each game. Last year they had a horrible running game. With Harris toting the rock now, there is no need for Ben to drop back 40-plus times per game. Balance must be the key on offense for Pittsburgh this year if they hope to have one last run with Big Ben at the helm.

The offensive line may be the only thing holding this offense back in 2021. The Steelers lost multiple offensive linemen during the offseason for different reasons. Former pro bowl center Maurkice Pouncey retired, pro bowler David DeCastro was released in June, and Pro Bowler Al Villanueva exited the team via free agency. If the Steelers can somehow find a way to replace this trio, the offense should find its rhythm.

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This team must figure out how to get back to playing Steelers football. Traditionally that means running the ball to set up the pass. Not the other way around. Last year they were passing the ball to set up continuous passing, it seemed. This year the Steelers will have to rely less on Roethlisberger’s arm and hand the ball to Harris as much as possible. Conserve Big Ben for a potential postseason run. I know it isn’t in vogue to hand the ball off 30 times a game anymore. But this is the only way Pittsburgh will stand any chance of competing within the AFC North this season.

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