2017 South Side Questions: Will More Chemistry With New Targets Help Ben Play Better?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Will Ben Roethlisberger’s play grow stronger in the second half with more familiarity with his targets?

Early in the Steelers’ bye week, the media got access to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who predictably was tasked with fielding some questions about his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who statistically is having one of the worst seasons of his career, in spite of the team’s 6-2 record.

The primary defense for Roethlisberger’s numbers that he gave was the fact that he was throwing to a lot of unfamiliar targets this year—setting aside the fact that last year was the same story, yet he produced better numbers.

Haley isn’t wrong though. Aside from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, with a dash of Jesse James, this is a pretty different set of offensive skill position players from last season, even factoring in the fact that Martavis Bryant was suspended for a year, and that chemistry has clearly not gotten all the way back.

But two big targets for him this year are, or should be, rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald. In the case of the latter, he was only acquired in August via trade, so he has had little time to work with them.

And sure, a case can be made that the lack of time together has contributed to struggles with him. And the same for Bryant, who has only caught half of his targets. But there’s but no such issue connecting with Smith-Schuster.

And there’s still Brown, Bell, and James. Yet his chemistry with Eli Rogers seems to have taken a step back. There’s no way that it is all down to just moving parts. He’s definitely struggling.

But it goes without saying that better rhythm and chemistry with his targets in the second half of the season would be an asset. Will we see that happen in the next eight games? I would think that the relationships to watch are that been the quarterback and Bryant and McDonald.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Alan Tman

    Here’s the difference between a QB wanting to be the best and one who wants to be top dog. Watch Brady reacts to Jimmy Garoppolo trade to the 49ers. Watch what Brady says about staying current with his footwork, and working with his QB coach.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    That was the lamest excuse ever. Bryant, bell, brown, Rogers, and Jesse all have at least 2 years of playing with Ben. That’s about 90 percent of the offense. Ben is still struggling mightily.

  • Steve Johnson

    What a Lame A$$ Excuse. Are you kidding me Todd Haley? The QB is losing his Mojo if anything. He has played in the league for 14 seasons. He probably has more weapons than 75% of the QB’s this year. He stares his WR’s down like he did when he was a Rookie. Bottom line, he’s got to play better and make better decisions with the football.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Ive been saying it for weeks that this is a reason for his lack of production, however not the only reason. Eli and Ben IMO have never had a good chemistry.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Bryant has had a whole year off and it takes awhile to get back into things….James IMO is a slightly below average TE and Eli and Ben have never seemed to have had a good chemistry. Add JuJu a rookie who is getting the 2nd most snaps at WR and a TE who is getting a lion share of the snaps who just joined the team and there should be growing pains. Ben and Brown who have had a good chemistry do not seem to have any lack of production which will say why not everyone else then?

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Ben ab. don’t have production issues? How many tds does he have?

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    we shall soon find out what the case is and if there was actually any problem at all I for one believe that we are about to see a high powered offense putting up at least 30 pts a gm in the second half

  • Jaybird

    Another good article and a great point Matt. I think Ben’s decline is a combo of having three new receivers from last year, Bell and the O line struggling early on, and the fact that Ben is legitimately slowing down physically.
    I do think the entire offense will be better in the second half though.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    True that the touchdowns are down a little but not yards or receptions.

  • Big Joe

    Hard to say as so much of the QB – WR play is dependent timing, familiarity with how a WR will react to a pattern from a depth/cut/paying attention standpoint. He and AB have that, but as we’ve seen, he’s lost that with Rogers, hasn’t gotten it back with MB, but is certainly developing it with JJSS. Jesse James isn’t developing into a consistent TE threat but he’s doing some good still. In other ways, with LB and JJSS rounding into form early on, I think he was trying to do to much with AB to make the offense go where he should have spread it around more to keep the defenses guessing. We’ll see. I hope so.

  • jsteeler

    Chemistry? The hell with chemistry! Ben should know where his receivers should be on the 3rd, 5th or 7th step, Then release the ball. Ben and the WR’s are the only ones who know where the ball is suppose to be. Pre Snap Ben should know looking at the Defense where hew is going with the ball. I can’t tell because it seems as if Ben can’t read defenses. Deshaun Watson has thrown 10 more TD’s than Ben and in 3 less games and he wasn’t even the starter in camp getting all the reps. Goff, Wentz both of these guys have all new WR’s on their teams. Sammy Watkins and Alshon Jeffery both have more TD’s than any WR on the Steelers. Ben is not getting the ball out when it’s suppose to come out. EVERY FREAKING PLAY HE HOLDS ON TO THE BALL FOR 5-6 SEC THEN SCATTERS TO THE RIGHT HOPING TO BE THE BEN OF OLD. TEAMS KNOW THIS. So teams on passing downs will rush 4-5 and drop 6-7, Double the outside WR on the wide side and single up on the short side and drop one Lb to cross with the Slot and blitz the other to Ben’s right side. It is so predictable this offense.
    For Ben to be the Starting QB in the same Offense for 5 years and not know when to throw the ball is atrocious. Martavis hasn’t gotten a decent deep ball this year. Ben overthrows jessie, Hunter and McDonald as if they are 10 ft tall. I think X Man has 1 catch on the season?
    Overthrows wide open Players in the end zone and throws behind players in crossing routes. This is all on Ben’s awareness, timing and preparedness. Every Opponents DL, LB’s & Secondary in the NFL has tendencies. The Steelers weekly game plan is to highlight those players and tendencies on game day. This team seems to have the motto ” Were going to do what we do, So, stop us if you can” I see no deception from Coach Haley or Ben. Let’s hope the Defense can just stay consistent and healthy.

  • jsteeler

    WR’s can’t make a QB’s talents decline. This is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Brady & Brees has had 3-4 new WR every year and still leads the NFL in passing EVERY YEAR.
    the WR has only 1 route to run on a single play. The QB has to hit that player in the spot he is suppose to be. Ben decline is his selfish nature to stare down 1 WR, AB and if he gets flushed out look for AB then if Bell gets a chance after a chip of a DE to get into the flat dump off to Bell. For the last 3 years this has been Ben’s M. O and teams know it. Martavis several times was open and Ben didn’t even look his way. I would be flustrated too. Especially, In the Chicago and Jacksonville games. Look at the tape, SMDMFH.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    If WR’s are not running the routes correctly or crisp enough you cannot expect to have success from your QB. I cannot say that is but I know last year we were not talking about this and for everybody just to say it is all Ben I think is being closed minded and not looking at the full picture. The only WR Ben was throwing to from last year to this year is Brown. Everyone else is different aside from a below average TE in James. To say that has no effect I think is short sighted.

  • Sean Finn

    Ben will pick it up down the stretch like he always has. 6-2 and 1st rd bye in their sights is something the Steelers haven’t had in recent memory. Ben’s arm strength, check. Receivers, (AB, JJSS, (I’m calling it now) and Bryant, check. Bell and Conner, check. The Wizard of Boz, check. Defense, my goodness, check. Ben hasn’t been sacked in 2 games, sit back and enjoy the ride friends.

  • Jaybird

    That didn’t come out like I wanted. Ben’s decline is on Ben – he’s getting old.I meant part of the Ben’s and the offenses’ problems are a lack of consistency . Bell was rusty for a few weeks, the O line was off for a while and still is struggling something awful in short yardage , New WR in Juju, getting MB back . Then there is Rogers getting benched for god knows what, The TEs are pretty bad although I like what V McDonald brings. Haley seems very vanilla this year- not a lot of creative plays . Lots of reasons why thisoffense isn’t clicking. And Ben is a huge part of it. But I still think he and the whole offense will be much better in the second half.