It appears that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will likely return to the team for the 2021 season, his 18th in the National Football League.
There remain contract details to be sorted out, as the team will need Roethlisberger to help ameliorate some of his current over $41 million salary cap hit for the 2021 season, but Roethlisberger has stated publicly that his salary for this season is no issue, and if taken at his word, some deal should get done when the two sides meet this week.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the Steelers largely depends on one’s perspective of how well Roethlisberger played in his 2020 season.
There were certainly positives as Roethlisberger led the Steelers to an 11-0 start, a 12-4 overall record and the team’s first AFC North title since 2017.
There was also Roethlisberger’s four-interception AFC Wild Card game against Cleveland and a general downturn in his statistical performance as the season went on.
So how good was Roethlisberger this season? Let’s take a look at where he finished in some of the most important quarterback statistics. (All amongst qualifying players in regular season, per Pro Football Reference)
Passing yards: 16th
Completion percentage: 20th
Touchdown percentage: 12th
Interception percentage: 9th
Sack percentage: 1st
Yards per attempt: 29th
Net yards per attempt: 27th
Adjusted net yards per attempt: 22nd
On the season, it’s clear that Roethlisberger was able to mostly do a good job of minimizing negative plays with the league’s best sack rate and a low interception rate.
He was also relied on heavily to contribute a large part of the Steelers’ offense, both throughout the field with his third-in-the-league attempts and completions and specifically in the red zone with his high touchdown rate.
But despite all of that, the Steelers did not have a prolific offense. Even with Roethlisberger’s high attempts, as a team, Pittsburgh finished 15th in passing yards. That’s because of Roethlisberger’s extremely low yards per attempt and completion percentages.
Several metrics attempt to incorporate those differing statistics into a catch-all number, with varying degrees of reliability. None of them are particularly kind to Roethlisberger’s 2020 campaign.
He finished 19th in passer rating, 22nd in ESPN’s QBR. His Pro Football Reference Approximate Value is a career-worst nine, which was tied for 21st among 2020 quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger graded as the 25th-best quarterback.
It’s clear that the Steelers will need to get more offensive production in 2021. That could come from an improved running game, better protection, fewer drops from receivers or elsewhere in the offense, but at some point, they’ll have to show those improvements in the passing numbers to find consistent offensive success.