Ben Roethlisberger, once thought to be the shoo-in for last season's Comeback Player of the Year award, suffered a dip in his play during the final stretch of the 2020 season. Specifically, it appeared that Roethlisberger had lost some of the zip on his deep ball, one of the main weapons in his arsenal during a decorated 17-year career as the Steelers' quarterback.
It wasn't a surprise when Roethlisberger -- during his first media availability since the end of the 2020 season -- was asked about his drop in production near the end of last season and whether or not that worries him heading into 2021.
"I had total reconstruction on my elbow, that might have something to do with it," Roethlisberger said with a smile. "No excuses. My arm feels great, though."
Roethlisberger, 39, admitted to feeling worn down near the end of the 2020 season. He also took responsibility for the Steelers winning just one of their final six games following an 11-0 start. But instead of lamenting over 2020, Roethlisberger is looking forward to the prospects of the 2021 season. For the fifth time in his career, Roethlisberger will have a new offensive coordinator: Matt Canada, who enjoyed a successful run in the college ranks before joining Pittsburgh's staff as the team's quarterbacks coach last season.
The Steelers' over-reliance on Roethlisberger's right arm last season, Pittsburgh's 32nd ranked rushing attack and what was often criticized as a predictable game plan ultimately led to the change in coordinators. The Steelers are hoping that Canada can wake up an offense that just three years ago set a franchise record for touchdowns scored in a season.
"There is a lot of new," Roethlisberger said, via Joe Rutter of the Tribune-Review. "For someone who has had a very similar offense for a very long time, verbiage-wise, it's taking some extra studying. It's a fun, new challenge. Guys are getting it, and hopefully it translates into winning football."
A more diverse offensive attack will surely improve the Steelers' offense that endured a four-game streak of failing to score at least 20 points last season. Furthermore, the addition of first-round pick Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth (a second-round pick) and fellow rookie linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. should help revive what has been a dormant rushing attack.
"Coach Canada's offense is one that hopefully will be a good one," Roethlisberger said, "and we need to be able to execute the plays that he calls, and hopefully we'll be better on offense this year than we were last year. ... He's got more motions, but I feel like that's where the NFL is kind of going right now. I can go under center, we'll be under the gun, we'll move. We'll throw a lot of different looks and schemes at people and see what looks."
Harris, the first running back the Steelers have selected in the first round since 2008, has left a quick impression on Roethlisberger, who played with four Pro Bowl running backs during his first 17 seasons.
"He's a really hard worker," Roethlisberger said of Harris, who is fresh off of helping Alabama win the national championship. "He's in here extra long. I think the other day the running back coach (Eddie Faulkner) told him, 'Hey Najee, I have to go home now.' That just shows that he's still in there watching film. He's constantly asking questions, and that's good. He doesn't seem lost. It's not too big for him. He's out there and he's playing fast. And I think the most exciting part about Najee that we're all going to be excited to see is once he clicks and he goes full speed, it's going to be something to see."
Roethlisberger also expressed his excitement in getting another year to work with Pittsburgh's receiving corps, a group that includes JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington. Roethlisberger confirmed prior reports that he played a somewhat significant role in Smith-Schuster re-signing with the Steelers.
"Is there a guy in the NFL that on third and short-to-medium you want the ball in his hands as much as JuJu? I can't think of one," Roethlisberger said. "The passion that he gives to this city and to this team to help us win is awesome."
Roethlisberger, whose return to the Steelers was not a sure thing at the end of the '20 season, is hoping to cap off his career with a third Super Bowl win, which would put him in an elite category of quarterbacks that includes Tom Brady, Joe Montana, former Steeler Terry Bradshaw, and Troy Aikman. And while the Steelers are not a trendy pick to make it out of the AFC, Big Ben likes his team's chances.
"I knew we had obviously a great defense and some amazing weapons on offense," Roethlisberger said. "I wanted to come back to be a part of what I think is a special football team that everyone is overlooking, which I think is kind of cool."