How did Ben Roethlisberger really play for the Steelers in 2020?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

From an efficiency standpoint, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a great season in 2020. 

After the Steelers schedule was released for the 2021 season, I encountered a lot of fans who seemed to be extremely optimistic about Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl chances next year. I certainly take no issue with this kind of optimism, but I couldn’t get behind their reasoning to be so confident.

The Steelers are set to play the most difficult schedule in the league next year, according to 2020 win percentages. Obviously, we know how much this can change in one season’s time. However, many fans seem to think Pittsburgh isn’t going to have an issue when facing teams like the Packers, Chiefs, and Seahawks this season.

Why? Because many believe that Ben Roethlisberger is still on par with some of the league’s most elite quarterbacks.

To justify this, they use raw statistical production from last season. They claim that, without any sort of rushing attack, Big Ben was able to compile 33 passing touchdowns to just 10 interceptions last season while throwing for 3,800 yards in 15 games. While this is true, it’s dangerous to use raw statistics in an attempt to justify how good a quarterback is. In reality, efficiency numbers give a much more accurate depiction.

Steelers didn’t get efficient QB play in 2020 out of Big Ben

I’ll be the first to admit that a 3/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is impressive, and Ben Roethlisberger was clearly doing something right. However, looking at this as the ‘say all, end all’ is like looking at a single flower and calling it a garden. There’s so much more involved here.

From an efficiency standpoint, Ben was near the bottom of the league in many major categories last season, according to Here’s a graphic from PlayerProfiler that breaks down Ben’s passing efficiency numbers after the 2020 season:

I took the liberty of color-coding his relevant passing statistics, but as you can see, the results were not very kind. Roethlisberger ranked 32nd in the league in yards per attempt, 34th in red zone completion percentage, 31st in deep-ball completion percentage, 36th in play-action completion percentage, and 33rd in clean-pocket completion percentage to name a few.

His best marks included being ranked 6th in true completion percentage and 4th in pressured completion percentage. While these are some impressive numbers, the fact that he ranked just 22nd in total QBR last season is somewhat telling.

It’s important to note that Roethlisberger was essentially playing without a rushing attack for the better part of half a season, and this could have contributed to some of his inefficiencies last year. However, Ben’s ability to accurately pass the ball down the field allowed teams to play closer to the line of scrimmage and force more defenders in the box. It works both ways.

Early grades for every Steelers 2021 free agency signing. light. Trending

I’m certainly not going to say that the Steelers have no chance in 2020, but I do believe many fans are overrating a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps he really turns it around and becomes a much more efficient quarterback in 2021. However, we don’t have a lot of reason to believe that he will be able to go toe-to-toe with the league’s most elite passers next year. Let’s hope the team can do enough for Ben and that Ben can do enough for the team to have a chance at a Super Bowl this season.