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Monson: Why the Pittsburgh Steelers are being underrated ahead of the 2021 NFL season

Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers went from the 2020 NFL season’s last undefeated team to a spent force staring up at the contenders above them in the AFC North in a matter of months. The fall in perception has been so swift that one is left wondering whether things went too far. Have reports of the team’s demise been greatly exaggerated?

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There were a lot of reasons to dislike the Steelers' prospects heading into this season, and many were contributing factors to their collapse down the stretch a year ago.

Ben Roethlisberger‘s decline

PFF’s power rankings rank Pittsburgh 13th heading into the season, the third-best team in the division and with an average of just 7.6 wins from the 10,000 simulations. The data dislikes the Steelers because of the quarterback play last year — Roethlisberger had an overall 69.0 PFF grade last season, 26th among quarterbacks and his worst grade since 2006. Even beyond the qualitative measure of his overall performance, the style with which he was playing was also concerning.

Roethlisberger’s 7.4-yard average depth of target was one of the lower marks in the league. His big-time throw (BTT) rate (4.0%) actually remained reasonably high, even if it was lower than usual, but his average pass was far more conservative than it has been in the past or than was necessary for the passing game to overcome some of the things working against the offense. 

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