How Steelers' new offense could prolong Ben Roethlisberger's career

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger proclaimed the team's 2021 offense would be like nothing ever seen before. The Steelers would throw everything at everybody.

But Roethlisberger, speaking for the first time since throwing four interceptions in a 48-37 first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, said it with his signature deadpan sarcasm. A glint in his eye revealed that his words were not entirely sincere.

In all seriousness, Roethlisberger added that the system run by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a lot of different concepts and verbiage and it will be a “fun, new challenge” after nearly two decades in the same scheme.

“When you’ve had the same offense or similar offense for 17 years and then all of a sudden something looks the exact same but is called something completely different, it is very difficult, and it is a big challenge,” said Roethlisberger, 39. “But that’s the game of football, learning new things and new challenges.

“Coach Canada’s offense is one that hopefully will be a good one, and we need to execute the plays that he calls and hopefully we will be a better offense than we were last year.”

Canada is hardly reinventing the wheel with the new scheme, but he will bring an infusion of his college concepts such as pre-snap motion and jet sweeps. And with a full complement of wide receivers and the addition of young talent in running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth, the offense will have the capability of producing a balanced attack with multiple looks -- just what Roethlisberger needs to be successful in his 18th season.

“We have gone under center, we have shotgun, he has more motion,” Roethlisberger said, describing Canada’s offense. “But I feel like that is where the NFL is going right now, a lot of the jet-sweep motions and stuff. I can go under center -- I never said I didn’t like it. We will be in the gun, we will move. Like I said earlier, we will throw a lot of different looks and schemes and things at people and see what works.”

The multiplicity also extends to the receivers, as Canada’s scheme gives them the option to find the best matchup prior to the snap.

“Formations are a little different, but I think it’ll help us because it’ll help us line up in different positions and move people around pre-snap and get the matchups that we want with certain guys,” said receiver James Washington, who enters his fourth NFL season.

A year ago, Roethlisberger tried to shoulder the load as the quarterback and unofficial offensive coordinator, often in a power struggle with former playcaller Randy Fichtner. He talked of playing backyard football, drawing plays up in the proverbial dirt. Baltimore Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey told Bleacher Report he even heard Roethlisberger tell his receivers which routes to run before the play.

Roethlisberger threw the ball 608 times, tied for the second-most attempts in his career, for 3,803 yards in 2020. Meanwhile, the Steelers ran just 373 times for 1,351 yards. Another year older and facing an extra regular-season game in the 2021 season, Roethlisberger needs an offense that doesn’t rely solely on his arm. That’s why reestablishing the run game under Canada -- who served as quarterbacks coach for the Steelers last season -- is a priority.

The Steelers found success early last season using some of Canada’s concepts and utilizing run-pass options and short throws. But defenses thwarted those plans as the season wore on, and the Steelers didn’t adjust. The newest iteration of Canada's scheme is still under wraps, with players hesitant to reveal too many details so early in the offseason.

But second-year receiver Chase Claypool said he believes an entire offseason of installing Canada’s offense -- in whatever final form it takes -- could help the Steelers.

“It’s pretty easy to transition into it because it’s similar concepts to what we were running earlier on last season,” he said. "It’s not too much of a learning curve, and I think it’s nice because we’ll be able to stick with it throughout the season.”

The transition might be a little harder for Roethlisberger. But to make it easier, he’s in constant communication with Canada.

“We’ve had quite a few communications. He’s come over -- we’ve talked. I told him that I know this is your offense, and he’s like, “No, no, this is our offense,” Roethlisberger said. “But I’m like, 'No, it’s yours.' And I’m just really trying to do everything I can to be open to the new challenge and say, 'OK, I’m learning. OK, got it, got it.'

“If something is confusing or something doesn’t quite make sense, I say, ‘Talk to me. Tell me how I can better understand this or how I can learn this or learn the formation names or what is your trick to learning things.’ We just have been constantly communicating.”