The Steelers have a good record against AFC south teams, with Ben Roethlisberger under center, in season openers. In fact, it's a perfect 3-0 beating the Tennessee Titans twice and the Houston Texans once. On the two occasions in which Roethlisberger tossed two touchdowns, against the Titans in 2005 and the Texan in 2008, the Steelers have gone on to win the Super Bowl.
The other win against the Titans was the 2009 overtime win in which the team lost Troy Polamalu for the majority of the season, and subsequently missed the playoffs.
While this has no determining factor on how Sunday would go, the performance of Ben Roethlisberger in the opening games that would be part of Super Bowl seasons was different from that of the season in which they missed the playoffs.
In both 2005 and 2008, Roethlisberger threw less than 15 passes, did not broach 220 yards in either game, threw no interceptions and two touchdowns. In 2009, he threw the ball 43 times, gained 363 yards, threw two interceptions and only one touchdown.
Roethlisberger was not forced to play outside of himself in either game he threw for two touchdowns, looking comfortable in both games. While in 2009 he struggled to lead drives into the end zone and looked much more out of his element than the other two games.
This Sunday, what may be the most indicative of how Pittsburgh's offense will perform this season will be how comfortable Roethlisberger looks leading it down the field. Sure he's entering he's starting his 10th season, but any quarterback will look rattled if he's dodging pressure. If he is not pressured to force throws into tougher coverage throughout the game and make more decisions on his own time, he naturally will be given a better chance to score.
In each season that Roethlisberger has been sacked more than 32 times, he has interception total in the double digits by the end of the season. However when sacked 32 times or less, has only one season in which totaled interceptions in the double-digits (his rookie season).
Ed Bouchette is right about the offensive line's play being a key to the season. While everyone is looking for the ground game to resurface, their protection of Ben Roethlisberger will be determinative of how comfortable he looks when passing the ball.
A supplemental part of Roethlisberger's comfort level while playing will be how Todd Haley's offense structures the passing game. Despite the offense sputtering in the end of the 2012 season, which was more so due to Roethlisberger's mid-season injury, the offense was looking more efficient with its passing game last season. At one point, it was the most efficient 3rd-down offense in the league.
The Steelers won't need Roethlisberger to pass the ball a great deal more than in years before if they can find ways for Roethlisberger to be more efficient when he throws the ball. As simple as that sounds, it isn't something that has happened consistently enough.
Roethlisberger is not excused from his own faults in his failures to read defenses pre-snap on multiple occasions which is also contributory to his non-comfort levels. He carries the major load in the efficiency of Pittsburgh's air game, and rightfully so. But what Sunday can be for both him and the Steelers is a statement, much like 2005 and 2008, that he can be efficient in the pocket.
Of the many things to watch for this Sunday, Roethlisberger's comfort level in making throws will be of the most concern. Look for him to be able to find weak spots in Tennessee's defense left open due to a blitz package being thrown at him; or realizing when a coverage assignment is blown by a defender. His comfort level generated from the protection of the offensive line, the structure of the Pittsburgh offense and his overall awareness of the field will be what determine his ability to take what the Titans' defense gives to him.
Roethlisberger has always been a dangerous quarterback to play against. However he has been at his most dangerous when a play breaks down and he gets into his gunslinger mode, making something out of a busted play. While this is admirable at times, adding the ability to consistently pick apart defenses before having to get turn on that level of play could make him the toughest quarterback to prepare for in the NFL. This is where Roethlisberger must improve if he wants to return to the Super Bowl and hush his haters in 2013.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Standard is the Standard Show - season kickoff episode
- Manning, Broncos crush Ravens
- Steelers vs Titans: Troy Polamalu is player to watch
- Steelers Antonio Brown seeks to extend TD scoring streak vs Titans
- Steelers Injury Report: Jarvis Jones looks ready to make good on Mike Tomlin's promise
- Steelers fullback Will Johnson may miss season opener vs Titans
- Steelers defense doing its share to win turnover battle
- Steelers secondary needs improved performance from Ike Taylor vs Titans
- David DeCastro feels 'more prepared' heading into 2013 season
- Isaac Redman: Sturdy, short-burst chaos will be on display Sunday