Is Ben Roethlisberger Still In His Prime?

Football News / Top Headlines / November 2, 2020

One of the hottest debates this NFL season is whether or not Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is still in his prime. What is the definition of a player’s prime exactly? Competing at a high, competitive level? The Steelers are currently 7-0, the first time since 1978. Check!

Roethlisberger’s stats aren’t in the top 10 but he has been consistent and has made minimal mistakes while keeping his team on a winning track. Others debate that he has changed his style of play but not for the better. Is change always bad? For a QB who is nearly 40 and coming off a major elbow surgery to his throwing arm, he is making a compelling case. As for my professional opinion, Ben Roethlisberger is on the tail end of his prime that has lasted over a decade. Here is why…

Film and Technique

To get a feel of when Ben’s prime actually was, you can turn to the game film. Take his rookie year for example. He had excellent arm strength and zip on the ball. Even for a bigger man, he isn’t afraid to take off and run for the 1st down. This was still his rookie year though and there were some big flaws. One was holding on to the ball longer than the average QB and another was not setting his feet on a throw. When he is on the run or backpedaling, his accuracy suffered along with his throwing style. When he took the extra second to plant his feet, Roethlisberger looked elite as a passer: crisp technique, tight window accuracy, and doing it all with ease like a veteran.

Fast-forward to the 2005 season’s Super Bowl run. In just one year, Roethlisberger changed almost completely as a passer. The time with the ball in his hand dropped dramatically and he didn’t try to rush down the field as much. His five-step dropback gave him time to set his stance for an optimal pass. His overall arm motions didn’t change but are more refined.

Modern-Day Roethlisberger

2018 was a career year for Roethlisberger from a statistical viewpoint. This was the last full season he played before his devasting elbow injury. As a 15-year veteran at this point, his game is so refined, it’s like going through the motions. The five-step dropback is now more of a three-step and he thrives to get the ball out quicker. The more important takeaway is that his delivery out of the pocket and on the run has greatly improved. Instead of contorting his body, he simply realigns himself toward his target. He’s not one to throw a cross-body throw to the opposite side of the field but he can still get the job done.

The real debate on Ben’s prime is right now, in the middle of the 2020 season. The elbow is healed and he is in full swing of things. During the offseason, there were a few question marks on his throwing mechanics. Guess what critics? Anyone coming off a major elbow surgery is going to be “short-handing” passes and looking a little rusty. Look at him now. There is still a short drop-back with a quick release. The accuracy remains but there is more caution in every throw. Ben doesn’t sling it deep downfield a dozen times a game as he had been but that’s a story for later. The conclusion is that he’s bounced back from his injury and is back to his 2018 form.

Team Is A Factor

Any basement analysis is going to look at a stat sheet and base someone’s prime on whenever they had career-highs. There is more to a more finesse answer, especially in Big Ben’s case. Look at the 2006 Super Bowl season when he started to grow as a passer. He threw a career-low 2,385 yards but was one of the better passers that year. Numbers don’t lie but they do cloud the truth.

One factor that needs to be included is what was the team like around Roethlisberger. Back in 2005, his Super Bowl-winning team had Heath Miller, Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, and Santonio Holmes. He spread it around to playmakers of all sorts but it was a lot of short-yardage plays, resulting in the low passing yard total. Some people thought he wasn’t good because he had such great talent but low production in his stats.

In 2014, Roethlisberger had a ragtag group of receivers in Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Markus Wheaton, an aging Heath Miller, and young Le’Veon Bell. Still, he had a career-high 32 passing TDs, just nine INTs, and just under 5,000 passing yards.

Now, look at 2020. People are stating his safe and cautious style is a sign of him being past his prime. In reality, he is playing to his team’s strengths. There are many more dump-offs and screens but the offense is still producing. Roethlisberger looks young on the field because he lets his speedy playmakers do all the grunt work. Does having a sharp mind on the field impact a player being in their prime? It should only add to it, correct?

In Conclusion

Ben Roethlisberger has basically been in his prime from his first Super Bowl run to now. What factors into him being in his prime? He’s had his fair share of injuries, both on and off the field but always bounced back from them. No matter who he had to throw to, he always keeps the play alive and gains yardage. His leadership, something that has been questioned over the last few years, is elite and it shows in his team’s success. The intelligence and instinct he has on the field only adds to it instead of taking away from it. Roethlisberger has continued to evolve over the last 10+ years as a passer and overall quarterback. He hasn’t gotten stale or stuck in his ways. Compared to other current QBs at his age, you can say he’s one of the best not named Drew or Tom. Say what you want about the man but he is a prime specimen of an NFL quarterback. Get it? Prime.

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Wes Keefer
Long-time fan, long-time writer. Senior Writer for PigskinNut Football. Giving your football news from outside-the-box.

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