BALTIMORE — For most of the 2020 season, Ben Roethlisberger has lead the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, but it’s been a collective effort that hasn’t seen the team lean on its star quarterback as it has in the past.
A running game boosted by some of new assistant Matt Canada’s pre-snap wrinkles and a healthy James Conner has take some of the load off, and perhaps the deepest group of receivers he’s ever had, from Conner and Jaylen Samuels out of the backfield to tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald and a five-deep receiver corps, it’s been more about the offense’s collective success than any one player’s contributions.
Sunday, in the second half against the Baltimore Ravens, all of that changed. The Steelers had gone four consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown and trailed the Ravens by two scores.
That’s when some of the old Ben came out.
Roethlisberger ran the offense in the second-half, with the Steelers going to a no-huddle scheme and utilizing some different personnel packages to try to get a favorable matchup in the Baltimore secondary. When they did, Roethlisberger took advantage, frequently calling plays — or outright inventing them — at the line of scrimmage.
“I know my whole career, people say that I always had the playground, backyard football,” Roethlisberger said. “This was it in its truest form. That’s why I tip my cap to all the skill guys and the line. I tell them here’s the protection and then everybody else, there were plays where, ‘JuJu you run this, Ray-Ray you run this, Ebron …’
James Conner rushed for 47 yards in the game, with 42 of them coming in the first half. As the Steelers drove to score three second-half touchdowns in what became a 28-24 comeback win, it was almost all Roethlisberger directing the offense.
“I give a lot of credit, especially in the second half, to the receivers, tight ends. We literally were just I was telling the line the protection and moving guys around and playing backyard football,” Roethlisberger said. “They didn’t blink an eye. To me, that is just so awesome that guys are able. … They didn’t have to be robots. They were able to do things on the fly and I think that’s what makes me most proud today.”
The Steelers experimented heavily with empty sets in the second half, first using Jaylen Samuels as an H-back, and then utilizing Ray-Ray McCloud in the slot some to create a different look. When they got one that created a predictable response from the Baltimore defense, they took advantage.
“We were able to get into a personnel that we hadn’t shown them much before,” Roethlisberger said. “I think it kind of made them not be able to do as much. They still tried to throw a couple of blitzes here and there, but we were able to dictate more what we wanted doing that in the second half.”
With the weapons and the offense Roethlisberger has around him — not to mention the Steelers defense — they have not needed much in the way of late-game heroics. But if necessary, the backyard gunslinger showed he’s still got it.