You could say the Steelers’ 28-7 Thanksgiving win over the Colts was a throwback, because Ben Roethlisberger didn’t throw the ball as much as he normally does at this stage of his career.
Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. According to Pro Football Reference it was the lowest number of passes Roethlisberger has thrown in a game since Week 10 of the 2012 season, a 16-13 overtime win over the Chiefs. Roethlisberger was injured in the third quarter of that game with the score tied.
Before that game, the last time Roethlisberger threw 20 passes or less in a game was Week 2 of the 2008 season, a 10-6 win at Cleveland.
Landry Jones replaced Roethlisberger for the Steelers’ final possession Thursday night, but it was garbage time. Essentially, in games when Roethlisberger has put in a full day of work, the 20 passes he threw Thursday were his fewest in eight years.
The main reason Roethlisberger didn’t have to air it out so much was Le’Veon Bell, who gained 120 yards on 23 carries four days after rushing for 146 yards on 28 carries in a 24-9 win at Cleveland. This is the most yardage Bell has gained on the ground in consecutive games in his career.
Of the 24 games in which Roethlisberger has thrown 20 passes or less, 22 came in 2008 or earlier. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005 and 2008. Both championships came in the first five years of Roethlisberger’s career.
Roethlisberger didn’t throw as much earlier in his career because even though he won a championship in his second season he was still developing as a quarterback. Also, the Steelers were still primarily a rushing offense in those days. They didn’t average less than 124.5 rushing yards per game in any of Roethlisberger’s first four seasons. Since then, they haven’t averaged more than 120.2, and that came in 2010, Roethlisberger’s only other Super Bowl season.
The Steelers averaged 105.6 rushing yards per game, and 3.7 yards per carry, during their 2008 championship season. But in that era the defense could mask the offense’s weaknesses. In recent years, it’s been the other way around.
The Steelers’ defense seems to be getting better each week. They have 11 sacks in the last two games after getting just 13 in the first nine games. After years of rookies waiting behind aging starters to get their chance, the Steelers’ first three draft picks all are contributing this season. Cornerback Artie Burns has two interceptions and Scott Tolzien didn’t seem to want to throw the ball his way Thursday. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave has a sack in each of the last two games. Sean Davis made two tackles on the first of the Steelers’ two goal-line stands Thursday.
Still, this defense is nowhere near the defense that helped deliver championships in 2005 and 2008. The Steelers do seem to be dusting off that old championship recipe on offense, however, with Bell providing a potent ground game and Roethlisberger not having to do all the work.