A glance at the current NFL standings will show that the Pittsburgh Steelers are having one of the most successful seasons in the entire league. Yet to hear the media and even Steelers players talk, their season is all but shot. It’s a confusing contradiction for a team that’s already clinched a playoff berth.
Still, the Steelers are currently in the midst of a three-game slide, and tensions are high. In particular, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is feeling the heat. Let’s look at Pittsburgh’s season so far and then zoom in on Roethlisberger’s performance and recent comments about improving.
A great season — until the wheels fell off
The Steelers had a lackluster season in 2019, going 8-8-0 and failing to make the playoffs. All of that seemed to have changed this season, with Pittsburgh showing vast improvements from Week 1. It probably helped that the Steelers had an easy opening schedule. Of their first five opponents, only one currently has a record better than .500: the Cleveland Browns, who the Steelers beat in Week 6.
Yet eventually the Steelers started facing tougher competition—and still they didn’t show any signs of wavering. In the end, Pittsburgh strung together 11 straight victories. This made them the only undefeated team entering Week 13, according to NFL.com. Depending on who’s asked, either the Steelers or Kansas City Chiefs were the best team at that point.
But then the Steelers started to fall apart, with three straight losses to the Washington Football Team, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals. Various factors played into that losing streak, including a rash of injuries and the fact that, because of COVID-19 schedule changes, the Steelers had to play three games within 12 days. Another key factor has been Roethlisberger’s declining play.
Ben Roethlisberger’s season so far
Through the Steelers’ first 11 games, the 38-year-old Roethlisberger was having an excellent season at quarterback. Even when you factor in the last three losses, his 65.3% completion rate this year is nearly a full point above his career average, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Likewise, his 1.8% interception percentage falls significantly below his 2.6% career average.
Yet when you take a closer look at Roethlisberger’s game-by-game stats, his numbers have been dropping off precipitously over his last three games. In the Week 12 game against Washington, Roethlisberger connected on just 62.3% of his passes—his second worst game of the season. That number dropped to 56.8% in Week 14, and then 52.6% in Week 15.
In those three games, Roethlisberger has also thrown four interceptions, which account for nearly half of his season total. Not surprisingly, his quarterback rating has plummeted as well, reaching a season-low of 62.4 in Week 15. In that game against the Bengals, Roethlisberger also fumbled the ball twice. A recent report by CBS Sports suggested that the Steelers are increasingly concerned that Roethlisberger’s ongoing knee injury has been a key part of his recent decline.
Roethlisberger’s take on his poor performance
Roethlisberger addressed his poor performance in the wake of the Steelers’ Week 14 loss to the Bills. Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he directly owned up to his recent struggles, saying: “I’m not playing good enough football for us to win. If I don’t play good enough football, I need to hang it up. I’m going to do everything I can to get back on track.”
Unfortunately, those words were followed up by a dismal 17-27 loss to the Bengals, who currently have just a 3-10 record. If Roethlisberger’s injury is really a factor, it might behoove Pittsburgh to consider starting backup Mason Rudolph in Weeks 16 and 17. That might give Roethlisberger time to get back on track for the Steelers’ postseason push.