Ben Roethlisberger leaned on a powerful rushing attack to enjoy early success in Pittsburgh. Jerome Bettis, one of the running backs behind some of Big Ben’s early success, feels that another impressive running game may allow Roethlisberger to have a successful end to his NFL journey.
The Hall of Fame running back recently spoke on the state of the Steelers and Roethlisberger, who at age 39 is entering his final season under contract. Bettis is encouraged by the future of the Steelers after seeing the team select two offensive linemen and a running back during the first four rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. He feels that an added emphasis on the running game can help prolong Roethlisberger’s career “another year or another two years.”
“There’s no reason to think he can’t do the same things that he was doing, but on a very limited stage,” Bettis said on “The Jake Asman Show,” via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “If you ask him to throw the football 20-25 times, I think he can do that for another two years. But if you’re asking him to throw the football for 40 times a game, then yes, this will probably be his last year. Because physically, I don’t think him, at that age, is going to be able to do that consistently.”
Pittsburgh’s over-reliance on the running game seemingly took its toll on the entire offense in 2020. Former Steelers left tackle and current Raven Alejandro Villanueva recently opened up about the mental strain the Steelers’ pass-happy offense took on him and his former teammates on the offensive line.
“For us as an offensive line in Pittsburgh last year, it was incredibly challenging that we knew that we had to go with these game plans that involved passing the ball potentially the entire game,” Villanueva said. “The mentality when you have a balanced offense, or when you run the ball, it’s obviously better for an offensive line.”
The Steelers invested heavily in their running game during the draft. For the first time since 2008, the Steelers spent a first-round pick on a running back. With the 24th pick, they took former Alabama running back Najee Harris, the reigning Doak Walker Award winner. To help open up holes for Harris, the Steelers used two draft picks on the offensive line. In response to Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement, the team spent a third-round pick on Kendrick Green, who made 33 consecutive starts at Illinois. They spent their first of two fourth-round picks on tackle Dan Moore Jr., a second-team All-SEC performer in 2020. To further bolster their offensive, the Steelers raced to the podium to select tight end Pat Freiermuth, who should fill in seamlessly for the recently-retired Vance McDonald.
“He’s the modern NFL power back,” Bettis said of Harris, via KDKA. “He has the speed, he’s got the power, but he also has the hands to get out of the back field and make plays outside of that offensive line. That’s going to really help the Steelers in terms of the passing game but most importantly I think that their commitment to running the football is going to return. I think that because they have to understand: if you don’t run the football, you’re not going to win.”
While Roethlisberger can still sling it (he threw 33 touchdowns in 15 games last year), the end of the 2020 season reinforced the need for the Steelers to return to a more balanced offensive attack. And if Harris has any questions during his first season in Pittsburgh, Bettis — who won a Super Bowl with Roethlisberger before walking off into the sunset — is only a phone call away.
“Hopefully I can give him any kind of tips and pointers that he would like,” Bettis said of Harris. “But I’m always available to him in terms of the resource.”