By Jeff Goldberg
Cold, Hard Football Facts Man of Steel
The 2010 season started rough for Ben Roethlisberger, and it ended rough, too, with a Super Bowl letdown against the Packers. But given the chaotic start to the season, with Big Ben suspended and a key offensive lineman cut down before the games began, the Steelers could hold their heads high, reaching the Super Bowl for the seventh time in franchise history.
Once his four-game suspension for off-the-field transgressions ended, Roethlisberger was his usual stellar self on the field, and the Steelers defense dominated like the Steel Curtain days of old, propelling the team into Super Bowl XLV.
But not even Ben and the defense could contain the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and despite a furious second-half rally, the Steelers lost the big game for just the second time in its eight appearances.
The 2010 Storyline: The numbers didn't lie: The Steelers were No. 2.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 12-4 (23.4 PPG – 14.5 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 51-29 (.638)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 2nd
Quarterback Rating: 8th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 1st
Relativity Index: 3rd
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Steelers committed more than two turnovers in a game just once the entire season. But they picked the Super Bowl to do it, committing three turnovers, including a costly pick-six in the first half
Best game of 2010
35-3 victory vs. Raiders (Week 11). Hard not to pick one of their two postseason victories for best game, especially the stirring second-half comeback against the Ravens in the divisional round. But this Week 11 wipeout of the Raiders was the Steelers at their absolute best, on both sides of the ball. The Pittsburgh defense held the Raiders to 182 yards of offense and just a game-opening field goal, while Big Ben threw for three touchdowns and ran for another
Worst game of 2010
31-25 loss vs. Packers (Super Bowl).
Roethlisberger has made his bones in the NFL as a big-game quarterback, and he showed why in leading the Steelers to the Super Bowl despite missing the first four games because of his suspension. But in the biggest game of all, Big Ben came up small, by his lofty standards. Roethlisberger finished the game throwing for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But it was his two first-half interceptions, including a pick-six by Nikc Collins, that put the Steelers in a 21-3 hole late in the first half that the Steelers could never overcome. Super Bowl history told us that the game was statistically over
once Collins returned that errant Big Ben pass for a touchdown.
Defense. The Steelers allowed the fewest points in the league (14.5 PPG), were second in turnover differential and held opponents to 10 points or less seven times during the regular season. The Steelers were either first or second in the four main defensive Quality Stats (QB Raitng, Passer Rating, Pass YPA and Hog Index), despite the fact that safety Troy Polamalu missed two games and was limited in others because of injury.
Offensive line. The Steelers knew this was going to be an issue before the season started, when right tackle Willie Colon was lost for the year with an Achillies injury sustained in the offseason. Then left tackle Max Starks went down at midseason. The result was an Offensive Hog Index ranking of 14, by far Pittsburgh's worst Quality Stat.
Despite the loss of his tackles, Big Ben still managed to survive in a treacherous pocket, overcoming a litany of sack-related injuries to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl. However, the weak link in the offensive line snapped for Pittsburgh in the biggest game of the year, leading to the single most important play of the season – as we discussed last week in our draft preview at SportsIllustrated.com
General off-season strategy/overview
Assuming we get back to our regularly-scheduled offseason, the Steelers have three huge free agency issues to deal with, with linebacker Lamarr Woodley the most likely candidate for the franchise tag. Colon and cornerback Ike Taylor are also unrestricted free agents, which could make retaining all three a challenge. Whether Colon stays or goes, the Steelers must address their sagging offensive line, starting with the draft.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
The Steelers have won at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons and been to two Super Bowls. Roethlisberger appears to have his personal house in order, perhaps for the first time in his life, and that should translate to another big year for Big Ben. If the offensive line holds up and the defense doesn't take too many offseason hits, the Steelers will be right back in the mix for Indianapolis in February.