Yesterday Steelers Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner addressed the media via Zoom. He referenced Ben Roethlisberger and the affect that his return will have on JuJu Smith-Schuster and on James Conner.
“If I was any skill player on offense, I wouldn’t just say, 'Wow, Ben Roethlisberger’s back, so I’m going to come back better.' That’s not going to happen. That doesn’t happen like that. He’s going to make you better. But man, you’re not winning if you’re not trying personally to get better, and I know they are.”
Randy Fichtner absolutely nailed it.
James Conner will have softer boxes to run into with #7 behind center, obviously. JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t have a guy from Samford throwing him the football. Ben Roethlisberger IS going to make those two players better.
However, Conner and Smith-Schuster had other problems not related to who was standing in at Steelers QB.
James Conner, again, couldn’t stay on the field. He only played in ten games, two of which he was noticeably hobbled, and he rushed for a career low four yards per carry.
I think Conner is a wonderful player. He just never stays healthy. That’s not Ben’s fault. That’s not Conner’s fault, either, but it’s the truth.
Conner also has had fumble-itis in crucial moments. Two years ago vs. Denver and Cleveland, and last year against the 49ers.
Those fumbles, in key moments, arguably cost the Steelers a playoff spot in two straight seasons.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had career lows in catches, yards, and touchdowns last season. Not having Roethlisberger obviously contributed to those facts.
But, JuJu did have the ball in his hands against the Ravens in OT, and fumbled the game away. In a must win game against the New York Jets, he had the ball, and the game, go right through his hands.
Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback in 2018 when Smith-Schuster fumbled against New Orleans and ultimately cost the Steelers a playoff spot.
Conner and Smith-Schuster have shown themselves to be good NFL players. Ben Roethlisberger coming back will undoubtedly help them get back to their pinnacle, but not all of their problems in the past two seasons have been because they were playing with a sub-par QB.
Both have had games and seasons in their hands and have shrunk in the moment.