GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Through the first four games and nearly a quarter of the 2021 NFL season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not looked like himself.
Through four games, Roethlisberger has completed 64.1% of his passes, down from 2020. His touchdown to interception ratio is flat level at 4 to 4. Roethlisberger hasn’t been upside down in that metric over a full season since 2006, and that’s with his average yards per attempt somehow falling even farther, from 6.3 yards in 2020 to 6.1 in 2021, and his average intended air yards are down from 7.1 to 6.7.
At age 39, Roethlisberger is throwing the ball deep less often, completing passes less often and making more mistakes than he did last season, when coming off reconstructive elbow surgery. His quarterback rating, currently 78.9, would also be his lowest since 2006.
That’s not to mention the most important stat: The Steelers are 1-3.
There is still 3/4 and change of the season to go, and Roethlisberger is no stranger to slow team starts. The Steelers have made a history under Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger of finishing stronger than they start.
“We’ve had some down years,” Roethlisberger admitted after Sunday’s loss to the Packers. “I don’t know if we’ve ever started like this.”
The team has, obviously, with an 0-4 start in 2013 sticking out in recent memory. That team finished by winning six of its last eight to land at .500, and just barely out of the postseason. Roethlisberger seems to know that a repeat performance of that turnaround won’t be easy.
“I think this is going to test us all,” he said. “We need to look in the mirror, and we need to figure out what path we want to take. I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to come out tomorrow and give it everything I have and do the same thing this week. Get ready to go. I just hope and pray everybody else in the locker room does the same thing because I think it could potentially be easy to quit in a situation like this, and I don’t think we have that in this locker room. We have to get ready to go.”
With the team and Roethlisberger starting slowly, there have been calls from some parts of the fanbase for the team to bench its veteran signal caller, something that seems out of character for Tomlin. And it sure doesn’t sound like Roethlisberger is anywhere near ready to throw in the towel.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I’ve had some really good games, some really bad games. Some good years, some bad years. I still love to play this game. I love what it is. Even when losing, the game stinks, but there’s still something to it. There’s something to the comeback story. There’s something to the rebound. There’s something to looking in a guy’s eyes and telling him I appreciate his effort today.”
With a new offensive line and a new coordinator in Matt Canada, a hot start wasn’t exactly expected. Injuries have decimated the defense, preventing that unit from carrying the team through the offense’s slow start.
The Steelers can turn things around — starting with four of their next five games at home. The Denver Broncos may be coming to town without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Sunday. The following week, the Seattle Seahawks could very well be 2-3, as they’ve dropped a pair of winnable early games themselves.
“When we lay our head down at night, can we say we’re proud of our performance?” Roethlisberger asked. “If not, how do we make adjustments and changes and make it so that the next time we come out, we are proud of our performance?”
That’s the question. It’s up to Tomlin, Canada and Roethlisberger to come up with an answer.