Yes, he threw 17 touchdown passes and only six interceptions over the second half of last season. And he went four straight games without a turnover, and he completed 61.2 percent, and he posted a 92.1 passer rating. All of those things are what Ben Roethlisberger did on the final eight game days of 2013 for the Steelers, but in offensive coordinator Todd Haley's mind what was even more special was what Roethlisberger was doing on the Wednesdays leading up to those game days.
"In those low times the true leadership of the team shows, and some of those low Wednesdays when we came out for practice and were 2-6, it could have been easy to just go through the motions," said Haley. "But in those situations you saw Ben take charge, and a lot of those practices that were make-or-break practices from the coaches' perspective, you could see there was no quit. We kept fighting until the end when we were watching Kansas City miss the field goal against San Diego in overtime in that last game of the season that kept us out of the playoffs. Even though it was a rough, tough year and nobody was satisfied with it, a lot of good came out of it that should help us moving forward."
Moving forward from 2013, moving back into the playoffs after a two-season absence, is what these Steelers are all about this offseason. Today begins the final phase of the offseason – a minicamp that runs through Thursday before a break lasting until July 25 when everybody reports to Saint Vincent College – and having the offense pick up where it left off would go a long way toward facilitating that.
"We struggled and started off so poorly and had some real lows during the first half of a season when things weren't looking too good, but we had a lot of guys who chose to fight through and push through the rough times to play their best football in the second half of the season," said Haley. "I think that bodes well for our entire team."
The offense was the brightest spot of last year's playoffless season, and there is considerable optimism within the team that the unit can, and will, shine even more brightly in 2014. In one way, that would seem to be wishful thinking, what with two of last year's top three receivers gone, what with the unit getting just a single 100-yard game from one of its running backs, what with the Steelers apparently having to depend upon a couple of rookies to increase the number of big plays.
While Haley believes strongly in what new offensive line coach Mike Munchak will bring and that Lance Moore can become what Jerricho Cotchery was for the receivers both on and off the field and that Dri Archer and Martavis Bryant can be more than typical rookies, the reason behind his own positive outlook has to do with the quarterback.
"They all see him as the leader of the team. It's very clear that when Ben speaks, or he's on the field for his set of plays in practice, he's running the show," said Haley. "Whether guys are on the field with Ben or not, they've all got their ears perked up and they're listening to anything that he says. The entire group will look to the quarterback always, and we're fortunate we have a guy who has played well in a lot of games and played well in a lot of big games. And because he's not going to be satisfied unless we're playing in the final game, the Super Bowl, the entire group, being a younger group, will lean on Ben all the way until we get there."
Some of the other subjects touched upon by Haley:
On the hiring of Munchak:
"In my opinion, he's the best at what he does, which is coach the offensive line. He's a great person. He's a great teacher. It's already had an impact on the players, who are getting better every day and buying into everything he's teaching. And it's had a great impact on our staff offensively. You've got a guy who's been a head coach who can see the big picture. Sometimes you get guys who just see their position and worry about their own guys, but because Mike is able to see the big picture it's a great addition from a staff standpoint. It has allowed our offensive staff to jell, because there has been great communication between Mike and (running backs coach) James Saxon along with the guys who have been here. It's really been a lot of fun.
"He and I hit it off from day one. We have a lot of the same vision for the direction we want to go. That's so, so critical because as everyone says, it starts with the guys up front. When the coordinator and the offensive line coach have the same vision for how you want to play football, that's a big plus."
On more no-huddle:**
"As we went through last year, as we got comfortable with the entire group – such as having three or four different centers, and that position is such a big part of operating in that mode – it took a certain comfort level for us and for Ben to feel like we could do it. Such as on the road in Baltimore, those are conversations Ben and I would have all week leading up to some of those games. Do we feel comfortable enough with the pieces in place to get that done in some of these hostile environments? It's kind of a group decision. We have some moving pieces again, such as at running back and at receiver, and so there again has to be that comfort level in the decision-making process. It's something we feel we're improving upon, getting more efficient. There's a lot of work that goes into it, and everybody had to be on the same page, but we've made more and more progress in that area, which is exciting.
"When you can be in that no-huddle mode, what it allows you to do is, if everybody is on the same page and understands what we're trying to get done, you can get the right play called a lot of the time. That's where a lot of the advantage comes into play."
Check out photos of running back LeGarrette Blount, who the Steelers agreed to terms with on a two-year contract. (Photos by AP.)
On the addition of LeGarrette Blount:**
"A huge signing, even though it was kind of under the radar. The other coaches were all off at that time, but since my kids were all in school I was in here with nothing better to do. So I got to spend a lot of time with him, and quickly you learn that this guy is all about football. He knew as much about our 2013 season as some guys on our own team. He told me he watches a lot of pro football, he knows a lot about the history of the Steelers. Those were all bonuses in terms of getting a guy who's real interested in being here, and then you throw in that he's 250 pounds, he has good run skills, that he's had a 5.0 average wherever he's been, that he was productive in big games last year with the Patriots. He combines with Le'Veon to give us some real power and strength at the running back position."
On Moore for Cotchery:
"He's a guy who has quickly grown on all of us. I have a good relationship with (Saints coach) Sean Payton, and so I got a lot of good scoop on him. He did a lot of great things for New Orleans, and did them in big games, which is always very interesting to me. He's a smart guy, with a lot of savvy at the position, and even though you might look at him and think 'slot receiver,' he has the ability to play inside or outside. As a real smart player, he's going to understand multiple positions, which gives you a lot of flexibility on game days. Consistent. Dependable. And having lost a guy like Jerricho Cotchery, who was kind of the father figure of that receiver room, you can seamlessly move forward with a guy who will fall into that role, being the most experienced of the bunch."
View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 3rd round draft pick, running back Dri Archer.
"Dri is a unique guy because he's not really a running back, and he's not really a receiver. He can do both. He's a really smart guy who's fast, clearly the fastest guy whenever we're out on the field. He is a rookie, so we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but he looks like a guy who will be a very good change of pace at the running back position, much different from Le'Veon and LeGarrette Blount. And he'll definitely be a speed factor at the receiver position."
"He's as advertised – a legit 6-foot-4 and with legit 4.4 speed. That's not a combination you see very often, a guy that big who can run that well. Another rookie, so we're not anointing him. He's got a long way to go, because at the receiver position, there are a lot of subtle things that go on, but he's big and fast and what sets him apart and should give him a chance to succeed is that he gets to top speed fast for a guy that big. Usually tall guys are long-striders who have to build to top speed. He has good ball skills, which is exciting to all of us because when you get a guy who is 6-4 and can judge the ball well it means he's usually going to get it at the high point. That allows him to take best advantage of his size. Early on, he can be a factor in the red zone, and he'll be another guy who gives us speed outside the numbers to stretch the defense."