When a player comes back to a unit that underperformed without him, there can be pressure on him to feel like he has to be the difference, to press himself to do more than he may be capable of, to force things for himself rather than relying upon his teammates.
Ben Roethlisberger understands that temptation as he returns to a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that looked like a pale imitation of itself—and even that is being generous—in the time that he missed in 2019 after tearing three tendons in his throwing elbow.
“I’m more worried about myself than the other guys”, he said about the pressure the offense is facing to do better this year. “I think I have to manage myself as the quarterback and the guy who is handling the ball every play. Making sure we are in the right play, not trying to do too much. It’s going to be on me to get myself under control and then help young guys as we go”.
The Steelers had to get through 14 and a half games last season with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback, neither of whom had ever thrown a professional pass or taken a snap in a regular season game before the year started.
While they were far from the only issue—injuries alone were crippling—nobody doesn’t believe that Roethlisberger’s return will make a world of difference. And he knows that he’s coming back to a more talented offense than the one he left.
“Like I said before, we have a really good veteran group and I think we can all help each other in that area. My comfort is going to come from the guys in front of me”, he said. “We are all going to have to help each other out. Guys are going to have to make plays for me, I’m going to have to make plays for guys. That is why this is the ultimate team sport”.
This time, he will be coming out behind a reconfigured offensive line, with Matt Feiler at left guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. But as he said, “I do know that Maurkice Pouncey is going to be out there, and that’s my center”. Alejandro Villanueva will also be out there on his blind side, though David DeCastro is at risk of missing the opener due to an undisclosed lower body injury.
More than the offensive line, he comes back to a position group that suddenly includes Eric Ebron at right end to pair with Vance McDonald, a homerun threat in the backfield in Anthony McFarland in a deep group, and 6’4” wide receiver Chase Claypool supplementing a strong trio including the breakout candidate, Diontae Johnson.
Roethlisberger did an excellent job in 2018—for the most part—of letting his players make plays for him. He had among the shortest time-to-throw figures in the league, and among the highest percentages of his passing yards come after the catch, leading to over 5000 passing yards and a team-record 34 touchdowns.
If he can just keep that in mind and not put too much on himself to be ‘the guy’ when he doesn’t have to be, he should settle in quickly and be who they need him to be after all.