Now that Ben Roethlisberger has confirmed he’s coming back, we can start making some projections as to how this decision will play out….
…OK, the Steelers still need to weather free agency and then hit the 2021 NFL Draft.
These are two huge variables that will have an impact on the 2021 season. But here is a look at Worst, Best and Most Realistic Scenarios for the Steelers in light of Ben Roethlisberger’s return for the 2021 season.
Worst Case Scenario for Ben Roethlisberger’s Return
The risks of a Roethlisberger return are real. Here’s a worst case scenario:
- Ben never gets comfortable with the “bionics” of his new arm.
- Therefore, he’s limited to the short passing game.
- Defenses catch on. Except this time it doesn’t take them 2 months.
- Worse yet, the Steelers can’t rebuild their offensive line nor field a strong running game.
- The defense, is good, but Alex Highsmith looks like the 2nd coming of Jarvis Jones
If that happens 2021 autumn will drag on. The Steelers could perhaps sniff a playoff spot, but in the hyper-competitive AFC North, they could easily find themselves in a knockdown, drag out fight to avoid finishing 4th place.
If Ben Roethlisberger never finds his comfort zone with the “bionics” of his new arm, then even an 8-8 or 9-7 effort is likely the best case outcome, which would have a snowball effect, in that the Steelers would drafting in the middle, rather than early in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Best Case Scenario for Ben Roethlisberger’s Return
Here’s a best case scenario for a Ben Roethlisberger return:
- Ben gains comfort with the “bionics” of his new arm.
- Matt Canada can unleash Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson downfield. James Washington flourishes.
- Zach Banner resigns. A new center is found.
- The Steelers offensive line recaptures glory of old.
- Pittsburgh gets a legitimate number 1 running back forcing defenses to respect the run.
- Alex Highsmith flashes LaMarr Woodley like potential
- Joe Haden doesn’t lose a step. Sutton resigns. The defense is dominant.
Wishful thinking? Maybe.
But towards the end of the awful 6-10 2003 campaign, Bob Labriola reflected on the Steelers woe and mused that “offensive lineman don’t grow on trees” and liked the Steelers road to improvement to an overweight person’s battle to get fit – don’t expect it to happen over night.
But the Steelers did field a strong offensive line in 2004, their defense got better, and they finished 15-1.
Most Realistic Scenario for Ben Roethlisberger’s Return
As someone who supported bringing Ben Roethlisberger back in 2021, the most realistic scenario return lies somewhere in between the best and worst case. It would look like this:
- Ben Roethlisberger falls into a rut, of struggling early in games and then getting hot
- The Steelers offensive line is better (how can get be worse) but Ben’s immobility is an issue
- Alex Highsmith looks like the next Jason Worilds
- Mike Hilton is back, but Cam Sutton is not
- Joe Haden still has something left in the tank, but often needs safety help
- Tyson Alualu returns, mans the middle like a champ, then gets hurt and is lost for the season
With that in mind, the most likely end game for the 2021 Steelers is that Pittsburgh is competitive, makes the playoffs, but falls short. The God’s honest truth is that this is the most likely scenario.
But its also true that the Steelers their chances for making run at Lombardi Number 7 are far better with Ben Roethlisberger than with Mason Rudolph.