Ben Roethlisberger was quickly dubbed the Steelers savior when the rookie quarterback from Miami of Ohio made his professional debut in Week 2 of the 2004 season and simply couldn’t stop winning.
You remember the signs, right? I’m talking about the ones of him touching the flock or whatever. Anyway, was Roethlisberger really the Steelers' savior back in 2004, or was he simply the final piece—albeit, an important one—to a Super Bowl roster?
Think about the players on that 2004 team.
I’m talking about Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Alan Faneca, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter...I think I’ve made my point.
The Steelers had a stacked roster in Roethlisberger’s rookie season, one that had just been to the AFC Championship Game three years earlier and narrowly missed making it back there a season later.
The Steelers had a great coaching staff, one that saw the return of Dick LeBeau as the team’s defensive coordinator in ‘04.
In addition to having great players and coaches, the 2004 Steelers had the “fortune” of a miserable 2003 campaign where few things went right and the team finished with a record of 6-10. Such a record meant the Steelers would select 11th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft.
As fate—or destiny—would have it, Roethlisberger fell to Pittsburgh, and the rest is history.
Roethlisberger had a memorable rookie season, as he helped to lead the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record and a berth in the AFC title game. But was he leading them, or was it the other way around?
The Steelers finished first in defense in 2004. They also led the league in rushing yards with 2,464. The defense recorded 32 takeaways, while the offense only gave the football away 21 times. Farrior was a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Polamalu, in just his second year, had the first of many great seasons of a career that would ultimately lead him to Canton.
OK, you get it: The 2004 Steelers were good. While Roethlisberger certainly displayed the skill set that would ultimately make him a legend (and a savior) during his rookie season, he clearly had a lot of help from a talented veteran roster.
That brings me to Kenny Pickett, the Steelers' new Ben Roethlisberger, a rookie quarterback who was thrown into the role of starter much sooner than many predicted and is now expected to be the Steelers' savior.
Pickett hasn’t quite been up to the challenge thus far. This isn’t to say he hasn’t had his moments. He clearly has had some great moments during his first 12-plus quarters as a professional football passer, but he’s also struggled mightily, including Sunday night when he threw three interceptions, two of which were quite suspect, in Pittsburgh’s 16-10 loss to the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
Pickett has thrown just two touchdown passes to seven interceptions since making his debut in the second half of a game against the Jets back in Week 4. He has a quarterback rating of 66.7 and a rather pedestrian average of 6.1 yards per pass attempt.
One of the things Pickett has going for him right now is his swagger. He looks confident. Furthermore, he’s holding himself accountable. He’s taking responsibility for his failures, which is good since they’ve been quite evident.
Also, Pickett looks like he has the physical tools to make it as a professional quarterback. He’s got the athleticism. He has enough arm strength to make all of the throws.
He just doesn’t have the team to prop him up at the moment, which is fine. This is how it normally looks for a rookie quarterback who is quickly thrust into the role of starter.
Those guys don’t normally have a Ward to turn to when a key third and long is needed. Heck, those guys don’t usually have a Bettis or Duce Daley to turn and hand the football to 30-plus times a game.
That’s especially the case now when passing is way more prevalent than even in Roethlisberger’s rookie year. You know how many passes Roethlisberger attempted in his first season? 295. The Steelers finished 28th in passing yards in ‘04, but nobody seemed to notice.
That’s allowed to happen when a rookie quarterback is actually a complementary piece for a really good team instead of the savior.
Pickett isn’t quite ready to lift up the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that, despite its “elite” label, has a defense that’s currently ranked 28th in the NFL. Pickett has to rely on Diontae Johnson when he needs someone to step up on third and long. When he turns to hand the football off, it’s not to Jerome Bettis, it’s to Najee Harris, a second-year running back who is still trying to find himself—and the proper running lanes. The Steelers' rushing attack is far from the best...really far (27th), while the offense as a whole ranks 30th.
With 127 pass attempts through 12-plus quarters, Pickett is on pace to smash Roethlisberger’s rookie total.
There is no equivalent to a Faneca along the offensive line, while Pittsburgh’s perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate—T.J. Watt—has been sidelined since Week 1 with a pectoral injury.
To further cement my point, the Steelers have a very young and unproven roster.
Pickett’s rookie season is closer to what Terry Bradshaw had to endure in 1970 than what Roethlisberger experienced 34 years later.
But things turned out quite well for both Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, and there’s nothing to suggest that Pickett can’t reach their levels.
Kenny Pickett may not be the current savior of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he can still be their future.