Healthy Ben Roethlisberger Makes Steelers an AFC Contender?

When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2 of the 2019 season, the team’s chances of a deep playoff run went up in smoke. By the first week of October, Pittsburgh was 1-4 and reeling.

However, the Steelers somehow managed to hang around the fringes of playoff contention for much of the season despite poor quarterback play in his absence. That bodes well for their chances of returning to contention in 2020 if Big Ben stays healthy.

After that start, Pittsburgh rode its formidable defense to four straight wins to get over .500. From Oct. 13 to Dec. 8, the Steelers won seven of eight before dropping three straight to close out the season at 8-8. It was a reminder that they have considerable talent on both sides of the ball—especially on defense.

The Baltimore Ravens will be the favorites in the AFC North, but with Big Ben back in the fold, the Steelers aren’t far behind.

Roethlisberger gathered with some of his teammates (including top wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster) last week for a throwing session at a Pittsburgh high school. Steelers wideout Ryan Switzer told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic that the 38-year-old looked to be in midseason form:

“Man, he let it rip. There was no restraint, no hesitancy, he was just out there. He has been throwing like that for a while and, in my opinion at least, getting out there on that field for the first time and throwing full-speed routes was refreshing. The control factor was taken out of it. He was out there and he was throwing. Did some off-schedule stuff. No restraints. He threw everything — across his body. Everything.”

Switzer, who has been catching passes from Roethlisberger in these impromptu workouts since February, said Big Ben has made significant strides in the last few months:

“I don’t know how many balls he threw, but he threw a lot to James (Conner) out of the backfield, me, JuJu. It’s leaps and bounds different from when we first started. He’s been working hard, and it’s been cool to be a part of that process and just to see him put his mind to coming back, just to see that tenacity has been neat to be a part of.”

Roethlisberger had developed quite the mountain-man look after stating: “I’m not going to shave or cut my hair until I can throw a football again. Throw it to one of my teammates, a legit NFL pass.”