Read all of BTSC's 32 Scenarios in 32 Days in our Hub
Scenario: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger breaks his own franchise record with more than 4,328 passing yards.
Why it will happen: Roethlisberger will have more control over his passing totals this year than he has in the past. The Steelers will run more no-huddle this year due to a combination of the team's trust in its franchise passer and more importantly, trust in the rest of the offense to keep up. Injuries have decimated this team's offensive line over the last few seasons, ruining any semblance of continuity - a key factor in running a no-huddle.
Roethlisberger will also have the benefit of an outstanding pass-catching running back and a fully healthy primary tight end. Le'Veon Bell missed the first three games of the 2013 season but caught 45 passes on 66 targets. Projecting that over 16 games, that's 55 catches on 88 targets. It'll probably be even higher than that, considering Bell's arc of progression scales upward quite a bit by the end of the year. Miller missed Week 1, and played probably closer to 80 percent than 100 for the majority of the season. With a less-than-adequate second tight end for more than two-thirds of the season, Miller had to shoulder the load in terms of in-line blocking. The return of Matt Spaeth - a better all-around blocker than Miller is - will help Miller's catch and target totals because he'll be able to gain priority targets more frequently.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is coming off one of the best individual receiving seasons in team history, and he is only improving. It'll be difficult for him to improve on a 110-catch, 1,499-yard year - extremely difficult, in fact. The increased total of targets likely to go to Bell and MIller may detract from his stats a bit, but he'll make it up with big-play ability as well as an increase in targets of his own. He had 10 or more targets nine times on the season, and the Steelers were 6-3 when Brown had 10 or more targets.
Why it won't happen: Bell's selection in the second round last year and the signing of LeGarrette Blount this offseason is suggestive of a run-first mentality. While Roethlisberger has control in the no-huddle, running the ball in that will still be an option. In fact, it's easier to run the no-huddle after a running play than a passing play, considering odds are outstanding the clock will continue running after a run. Teams can sub out quickly when the clock stops on an incomplete pass.
The stronger emphasis on running the ball will take attempts away from Roethlisberger, thus, limiting the amount of yards he'll have the opportunity to gain through the air. Brown will still be utilized in the team's wide running philosophy - quick throws to Brown when the presnap read reveals single off-man coverage. The balanced approach of this offense may simply reduce his pass attempts. Ben's highest output was in 2009, when the team finished 9-7. His second-highest is 4,261, which came in 2013, another playoff-less season. Third highest was 4,077, when the team qualified for the post-season but injuries largely wore Ben down, and made him a shell of himself in a playoff loss at Denver.
History shows Ben throwing for more yards equals fewer wins.
Keys: This will all come down to how well the Steelers can establish the run. That's a double-edged sword, though. If the Steelers run well, they can increase their ridiculously low play-action percentage from a year ago (11 percent of the team's passes came off play-action in 2013). That will set up more opportune deep-passing looks. It will also require a commitment not just to running the ball, but running it successfully. The team ran the ball 394 times last year, a product of both an ineffective level of success and a lack of ability for the bulk of the season.
It seems more likely the Steelers will see a large increase in their yards per play and scoring as an offense as opposed to their passing yards, but the passing game worked to a high degree over the second half of last season, and the extra experience will make them better this season.