Will the Steelers offense finally ‘B’ at full strength Sunday?

Ben, Bell, Brown and Bryant have been on the field together for just 16 plays. That changes now.

Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell

Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Name the biggest offseason acquisition by the Steelers. Go ahead.

Rookie linebacker and 1st Round pick T.J. Watt? He could be good, yes. But, no. He’s not the biggest acquisition.

Second round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster. Good player, great name, but also not the right answer.

Former Browns cornerback Joe Haden? No.

Third-string QB Josh Dobbs? Nope.

James Conner? No, sir.

Safety J.J. Wilcox? Not the one.

Sixth-round pick Colin Holba, a longsnapper? Wrong-o. He didn’t even make the team.

Is it a new puffy coat for Mike Tomlin? Not correct. You are getting colder with every guess. Consider putting on a puffy coat.

Fine, I’ll just tell you. The biggest acquisition for the Steelers this year is: adding Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant to the team.


Well said. But my information is no less true. Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and Bryant have been in the NFL a combined  27 years — all for the same team, the mighty Steelers of Pittsburgh — but the quartet has been on the field together for just … drumroll please … 16 plays over the past two seasons. Sixteen plays! In two years! (That stat is via ESPN, in case you are looking for someone to blame for melting your brain. Don’t blame me.)

According to data collected by Pro Football Reference, Roethlisberger took 921 snaps last season (85.04 percent of the team’s offensive snaps) while Brown had 975 and Bell, who was suspended for the start of the season, had 781. Bryant had none. The year before last, Roethlisberger had just 793 snaps (less than 75 percent), Brown had 1,029 (95.8 percent), Bryant had 511 and Bell, who played just six games, had 301. The Steelers had 2,157 offensive snaps over two seasons (these four combined for 5,311 snaps) but just 16 times were they on the field together.

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For all the hype over the Steelers offense the last few years, the unit has always felt a little bit disappointing. Bell and Brown are two of the top three rated fantasy players heading into the 2017 season, and Roethlisberger and Bryant are up there, too. But in real football? Even behind one of the league’s better offensive lines? The Steelers were only seventh in yards per game last year and 10th in points. In 2015 the offense was second in yards and fourth in points. And in 2014, the first year Ben, Bell, Brown and Bryant — henceforth in this column to be referred to as the The B Boys (sorry) for space — were on the same roster, the unit was second in yards and seventh points.

None of those offenses were bad. They were good, even. But they never were as good as they could or should have been. Not even close. I mean, last year the Buffalo Bills scored as many points as the Steelers. THE BILLS. And the Cardinals, behind Carson Palmer and deposed former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, averaged more than a point per game better than Roethlisberger and friends. Sad!

If the Steelers have the best offensive talent in the league, and arguably the best collection of offensive talent ever in the game, and are getting outscored by Carson Palmer, why even get up in the morning? But then you hear about the 16 plays in two years thing and you sit straight up in bed. Because we haven’t seen anything yet.

Of course, the biggest person to blame for The B Boys playing so little together is Bryant, who was suspended for all of the 2016 season and four games of the 2015 season. But even being on the field together for just 16 plays in the 2015 season is absurd. Then you remember that Bell only played six games that year due to suspension and injury and Roethlisberger missed four games due to his annual Roethlisbergerian injuries.

Add it all up: 16 plays in two seasons.

Somehow Brown, by far the shortest and slightest of the group, is the one who never gets injured. (Fingers crossed and mustaches curled.) The only season The B Boys have really been together was in 2014 when Bryant was a raw rookie who wasn’t even activated to the game roster for the first six weeks.

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So while it’s fun to yell at your TV/Todd Haley when the Steelers offense fails to score 40 points in a game, realize he has not yet had a full compliment of stars at his disposal. On Sunday against the Browns, we will see these modern Steelers at their full offensive capabilities for essentially the first time. Poor Browns.

That said, if Haley unleashes his full arsenal against the Browns, a Triple-A football team this year due to an ongoing roster rebuild, you would be justified in yelling at your television. There’s no need for The B Boys to give anything away against the Bad News Browns. Plus, Mike Tomlin has said he isn’t sure how much Bell will play in Week 1 after missing all of training camp in a holdout.

At the very least we’ll get a taste of the real Steelers offense on Sunday. We should get more than 16 plays. And then in the Week 2 home opener against the Vikings, a team with a stout defense, we’ll really start to see what this offense is capable of being. Bell, running and receiving and without any rust. Brown, making plays all over the field. Bryant, stretching the field deep. And Roethlisberger, somehow extending plays with his large yet still nimble feet until one of his superstars comes open. It should be a thing of beauty. It should be something we have never seen before, save 16 brief plays.

The Steelers offense, much-hyped for three years, is finally ready to make its debut.