The return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, Juju Smith-Schuster, and James Conner will electrify the Steelers offense.
The Steelers offense last year was abysmal, to say the least. They finished the year as the 30th ranked team in terms of total offense. That should be a given to change this year with their new approach. Pittsburgh has key additions coming back – none bigger than Ben Roethlisberger who missed 14 games in 2019.
However, Ben isn’t the only player returning healthy this year. Juju Smith-Schuster (foot and knee) and James Conner (knee) will also be starting the season at full strength. These two former 2018 Pro Bowlers saw their efficiency and overall production drop last season due to the fact that they were playing with a backup quarterback in Mason Rudolph along with a former practice squad quarterback in Devlin Hodges.
However, their injuries definitely played a factor in the Steelers lack of offensive success in 2019. Without their star quarterback, the Steelers offense as a whole struggled in yards per game, points per game, time of possession, and overall consistency. In retrospect, last year’s lackluster offense will not be a sign of things to come in this upcoming season.
Steelers offense will improve in 2020
The return of Ben Roethlisberger obviously makes all the difference. In his 2018 Pro Bowl season, he finished with 5,129 yards (NFL passing leader), 34 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. The interceptions seem like a bit much, but many of those were passes forced to former Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger is a six-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL passing yards leader, two-time Super Bowl champion, and a future Hall-of-Famer. He is a top ten quarterback in the NFL when healthy and an experienced veteran who knows all the tricks of the trade. Ben makes all the players around him better and now that he is healthy, it will be time to see him exploit Juju Smith-Schuster’s full potential.
People often forget that JuJu is only 23 years old and is already a Pro Bowl player. In his 2018 season, he finished with 111 receptions, 1,426 yards receiving, and 7 touchdowns. Those stats dropped tremendously to 42 receptions, 552 yards receiving, and only 3 touchdowns during the 2019 season without Ben.
Smith-Schuster also missed 4 games due to injuries. He is already the veteran presence in the young wide receiver room and should prove helpful to the young prospects such as Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington.
In addition to his receiving ability, JuJu is a tremendous run-blocker and he possesses sneaky speed down the seam. He also has a knack for finding holes open against zone defenses which not many young receivers have. People should not be so quick to write the ship on the young stud. Remember, he was getting balls thrown at him by the likes of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, both who had not started an NFL regular-season game in their young careers, prior to 2019.
James Connor should also improve tremendously with the return of Ben. Defenses will no longer be able to stack the box the whole game against him. This is because Roethlisberger actually has the ability to stretch defenses out.
People are also very quick to write off Conner, but often forget that he was a Pro Bowler just two seasons ago. In 2018, he tallied up 973 yards rushing, 55 receptions for 497 yards, and a total of 13 touchdowns (12 rushing). His numbers during the 2019 season took a major dip due to injuries as he finished with 464 yards rushing, 34 receptions for 251 yards, and a total of 7 touchdowns (4 rushing and 3 receiving).
A big part of these numbers dropping just a season after earning Pro Bowl honors was due to the fact that he did miss 6 total games, but also because of the inability of the Steelers quarterbacks to stretch the field. We saw the numbers he was able to put up with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, and we should not expect anything less next year when they both return healthy.
In conclusion, I expect all three of these players to have a breakout year in the upcoming 2020 season. They make each other better and having all of them healthy at the same time will scare opposing defenses.
Roethlisberger absolutely loves Juju Smith-Schuster and it is obvious that he has no problem going to the future star with the game on the line. In addition, a healthy James Conner running between the tackles should help setup success through the air this season. With all three returning to the field healthy, their offense should receive a major boost in 2020.