There's no question the Steelers missed Ben Roethlisberger in 2019. Their passing offense went from being one of the league's best in 2018, to 31st in 2019.
But there also was a feeling the Steelers had thrown the ball too much in 2018, when Roethlisberger topped the NFL in passing yardage with 5,129 yards as the team threw the ball two out of every three plays.
It's unlikely the Steelers will throw the ball that much again in 2020 with Roethlisberger returning from an elbow injury that required season-ending surgery after just six quarters of play. There is, however, an expectation the team's passing offense will be much improved, a point every veteran who has spoken over the past few weeks has been quick to reference.
"It’s Big Ben. He’s great," second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson said last week.
"That’s my guy. We’ve got big things to do this year, trying to win the Super Bowl together."
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was equally as effusive in his praise.
"He’s a great player, a playmaker," Fitzpatrick said of Roethlisberger. "But also, I saw throughout last year, just him being around the team, he’s a great leader. I like being around him. I like hearing from him. He has a lot of experience and wisdom to share. He’s going to keep being himself, even though he was injured. He’s going to go out and compete and challenge even myself, even though I’m a defensive player. He’s going to go out and make everyone else better like he’s been doing for the past however many seasons."
Fitzpatrick might not have known exactly how many seasons Roethlisberger has played because, at 23, Fitzpatrick likely can't recall a time when the Steelers' quarterback wasn't Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger, 38, will be playing in his 16th season for the Steelers in 2020. That will be a new team record. He had been tied with Mike Webster at 15 seasons for the most in team history.
He also needs to appear in just five more games to surpass Webster's 220 for the most in team history. Currently, he's third with 216. Hines Ward also sits ahead of him with 217.
Roethlisberger also owns every significant passing record in team history. He owns nine of the top 10 passing yardage seasons, with Terry Bradshaw's 1979 season of 3,724 yards ranking ninth to keep Roethlisberger from having all 10 spots. His 2018 mark of 5,129 is the most in team history.
In fact, the only major category Roethlisberger does not top the Steelers in is interceptions. He has 190 in his career. Bradshaw threw 220 in his 14 seasons.
Of course, Roethlisberger could surpass that total if he plays two more seasons as he is expected to do at the very least.
But in two more seasons, he won't just push every team record beyond the mark of anyone passing them anytime soon, he's also climbing the NFL's all-time charts, as well.
He'll enter 2020 eighth in all-time passing yards in league history with 56,545. That puts him just 4,816 yards behind Dan Marino, who currently ranks fifth on the all-time list. He's less than 500 yards behind Eli Manning, now retired, for seventh place, while Philip Rivers is sixth with 59,271.
He's ninth on the all-time list in touchdown passes with 363, one behind the Packers' Aaron Rodgers for eight place. Manning is seventh with 366.
Roethlisberger also is credited with 31 fourth quarter comebacks, which is tied with John Elway, once considered the king of comebacks, for sixth on the all-time list. Marino is fifth with 33. Johnny Unitas is fourth with 34. Drew Brees (35), Tom Brady (36) and Peyton Manning (43) are the only other players ahead of Roethlisberger on that list.
Of course, the best thing a quarterback can do is win. Roethlisberger stacks up well there, too. His 144 career wins are seventh behind Marino (147), while Elway is fifth with 148.
Playoff wins are even more important. Roethlisberger has a chance to move up in a big way on that list as well this season. His 13 career playoff wins are tied with Brett Favre for the fourth-most in NFL history and are one behind Bradshaw, Elway and Peyton Manning for third place. In fact, a good playoff run this season -- one that takes the Steelers to that Super Bowl Johnson mentioned -- would put Roethlisberger no worse than tied for second with Joe Montana, who had 16 career playoff wins.
Is it any wonder the Steelers are so excited about the possibility of getting their future Hall of Fame quarterback back in the lineup in 2020?
"When you have that caliber of quarterback available, everybody’s play picks up," GM Kevin Colbert said prior to the NFL Draft. "I’m looking forward to having Ben in the mix and seeing how the rest of the group responds with him."
With even an average season from Roethlisberger, he should move up the all-time charts, which is why it's stunning when people don't talk about him being a first-ballot Hall of Fame player.
And the momentum continues to build for Roethlisberger having a strong comeback season. Too many players who have seen him throwing in person -- Johnson being the latest last week -- are talking glowingly about it for him not to look good.
Perhaps we'll get a glimpse of Roethlisberger if/when the NFL gives teams the OK to have minicamps in June.
As our Ramon Foster wrote last week: "He’s saying he’s going to come back better than ever, I’m choosing to ride with him."
To continue reading, log into your account: