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How bad do the Steelers need an even better Ben Roethlisberger in 2019?

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An attempt at classifying the 2018 season of Ben Roethlisberger.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On a recent installment of the Steelers Preview podcast, I made a comment regarding 2019 being a bounce back season for one Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger. My ideas were opposed, albeit not in an insulting or a confrontational manner, by my co-hosts on the podcast.

The exact reason that they were called into question were his stats. The 15-year vet, and all-but-certain Hall of Famer, had a statistically fine year that included 34 touchdowns and 5,127 yards through the air. Those were both bests of a brilliant career. Plus, Ben is one of a mere seven passers to eclipse 5K (done 11 times in history though). His completion percentage of 67.0 was third best for him. So, I can definitely see the counterpoint levied against me. But when you factor in a league-high of 16 interceptions, my point has validity. Sure, Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck had one less at 15, but the futility of being the top name on a bad stat is daunting and disconcerting.

I also contend that a disappointing nine wins, and the missing of the playoffs is also a reason to sound the alarm and Ben was at the helm for that.

Again, it could be said that Chris Boswell’s myriad of misses and costly fumbles by Stevan Ridley (New Orleans), James Conner (Cleveland and Denver), JuJu Smith-Schuster (New Orleans) and Xavier Grimble (Denver) affected many a win, and transformed them into losses. But 2017 was a 13-3 campaign which hinged on mishaps that went the Steelers’ way.

So...it’s hard to tell.

As the general population of Steeler Nation, we may just have to rely on our own personal “eye tests” or Ben bias. The one thing that I recognize is the end result was less than optimal for all concerned and involved. While I contend Ben could have been better, I would not say his window is closed. The gigantic contract has raised some concerns about the amount of money paid to a quarterback in his career’s twilight, but would you rather see Joshua Dobbs and his rookie minimum run the show?

Despite the season we’d all like to forget for various reasons, I have a surge of optimism running through my black-and-good veins for various reasons. No. 7 has a history of rallying when his ability has been questioned. After the Week 5 debacle against Jacksonville in 2017, where he threw five balls (including two pick-sixes) into the greedy, waiting mitts of Jaguar players, “the old cowboy” lamented that maybe he doesn’t have it anymore. He then reeled off eight-straight wins for that 13-3 mark.

A very telling stat surrounds Ben and the artist currently self promoting himself as “Mr. Big Chest”, our estranged friend Antonio Brown. Ten of Ben’s 16 interceptions were passes intended for No. 84. That equates to a percentage of 62.5%. While I disagree with Ben’s criticism of Brown over the alleged “flat route” against Denver (I thought it was a bad choice in the direction of a defensive lineman), Antonio seemed to have been making a strategy of freelancing on the agreed upon routes he was to run. I feel that Ben forced a majority of his throws to appease his All-Pro teammate in the name of team harmony and because of his once-certain rapport with Brown. That strategy could be deemed as poor decision making as well. Nevertheless, that option has ceased to be one for the upcoming Steelers campaign.

When Brown left in a blaze of controversy, he threw Ben under the bus and accelerated over his QB leaving long lasting skid marks. Le’Veon Bell did as well, but he was more in need of a scapegoat after not getting the contract he desired after he threw so much away. With those guys gone, Ben is left with a supporting cast that has been going out of their way to praise his leadership and celebrate the opportunity to play with him. So, my excitement lies in the prospect of a stable of hungry teammates excited to play with an accomplished winner. It also lies in the optimism that Ben seems poised to celebrate and guide the young receivers he is throwing to. Add in a suspected attempt to elevate a rushing attack along with a dedication to resuscitate a choking defense and employing the capable personnel to accomplish both goals, a scenario for success could become far likelier.

Finally, Ben seems to thrive with his back firmly pressed up against the wall. With all of these factors in play, he would not necessarily need to eclipse the stats of last season...except for the win total. While there’s still a debate on just how bad last season was, the writing is on the wall for 2019 to be really good. It just all depends on the author and his awareness and dedication to rewrite the script.