The 2019 regular season was an up and down roller coaster ride for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While an impressive defense was able to keep the team afloat, almost clinching the AFC’s sixth seed for the 2019 postseason, the offense was unimpressive at best with lackluster performances at the hands of quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. However, with Ben Roethlisberger’s return in the 2020 season, the Steelers should have no problem contending for a playoff spot.
During a week two matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, Roethlisberger suffered a right elbow injury, which required surgery, causing him to miss the rest of the regular season. The Steelers were forced to turn to the second-year signal-caller in Rudolph. He started from week three until week eleven when he was involved in a fight at the end of Pittsburgh’s game with the Cleveland Browns. Fellow second-year QB Hodges would start all but one of the last six games, but the poor quality of the offense caused the Steelers to miss out on a postseason opportunity.
Just over five months since receiving the surgery, Roethlisberger is throwing a football again. An encouraging step and head coach Mike Tomlin said he has “no hesitation” that Roethlisberger will be ready to go for week one of the 2020 season, according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 22, 2020
Roethlisberger’s return should raise OSM scores
During the 2018 season, Roethlisberger threw for 5,129 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Also, according to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric, he earned an overall OSM grade of 23.19 in the 2018 season, higher than both Rudolph’s grade, 19.23, and Hodges’ grade, 18.26, from 2019. While off the bat that is an instant improvement, Roethlisberger’s OSM dipped a bit in 2018 after having an overall grade of 26.32 and 26.41 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.
While the Steelers are in a new era after moving on from both running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, they still have the talent to surround Roethlisberger with a solid attack. Using his lower OSM score from 2018, had Roethlisberger earned a 23.19 in 2019, he would’ve been ranked as the 17th overall QB out of 40 eligible passers, including his entry. That would also put him 15 spots ahead of Rudolph, who ranked 32nd followed closely behind by Hodges coming in at 35th.
On top of that, it was evident that the loss of Roethlisberger caused some players to slip in production. WR Juju Smith-Schuster had quite the down year in his first season as the Steelers number one receiver. While he did earn an OSM grade of 31.3, he was third on the team in receiving yards with just 552, and only found the endzone three times during the 12 games he played in 2019. With Roethlisberger’s return, Smith-Schuster should be able to get back on the same page with his QB and make amends for his rough season.
Steelers defense a dominant force
There’s hope in Pittsburgh. Last season, the defense made strides to return to the dominant force they used to be. The Steelers defense gave up the fifth least points per game holding the opposing offense to, on average, 18.9 points. They also gave up the fifth least yards per game, allowing opponents just 304.1 yards on average in the 2019 season. The defense also produced 38 takeaways, most notably behind newly acquired defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who the Steelers traded for from the Miami Dolphins.
With the defense surging, Roethlisberger’s return should solidify the team as a whole. The offense will not have to worry about inexperience rearing its ugly head in pressure situations, and the playmakers can get some of their chemistry back. With the offense now being somewhat similar in talent to the defense, a postseason appearance is easily attainable for the Steelers in 2020.