The Pittsburgh Steelers held on for their fourth consecutive NFL win after withstanding a late surge from the Chicago Bears 29-27.

Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal lifted the Steelers (5-3) as Cairo Santos' last-gasp 65-yard effort fell short in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Justin Fields had led the rallying Bears (3-6) to a 27-26 lead with less than two minutes remaining, dazzling with a 16-yard pass to Darnell Mooney during the closing stages as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were left with work to do.

Roethlisberger (21-of-30 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns) fuelled a seven-play drive to get Boswell into position for the game-winning kick – the Steelers snapping a three-game skid against the Bears as Santos, who had made 40 consecutive field goals, four short of the all-time record, failed in his reply.

No team in NFL history had more wins on Mondays than the Steelers entering the contest and they set out to extend that run after Najee Harris' 10-yard rush gave the hosts a 7-0 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

The Steelers continued to dominate – Roethlisberger throwing touchdown passes to Pat Freiermuth in the second and third quarters for a commanding 20-6 advantage heading into the final period.

T.J. Watt also reached 60 career sacks in his 69th appearance, with only three players reaching the mark in fewer games – Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas, and brother J.J. Watt.

Chicago erased the deficit behind Mooney, who rushed for a score and caught Fields' (17-of-29 passing for 291 yards, a TD and interception) throw in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers had all the answers in a tight finish.

Chris Boswell made the game-winning kick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 23-20 overtime defeat of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but T.J. Watt got the assist.  

All-Pro edge rusher Watt forced a fumble by Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith deep in Seattle territory with just over four minutes to play, setting up Boswell's decisive 37-yard field goal just over a minute later. 

After the teams traded punts on their opening possessions in overtime, Watt ran down a scrambling Smith at Seattle's 13-yard line and stripped the ball from the quarterback for the 20th forced fumble of his career – the most of any NFL player since Watt entered the league in 2017. 

It was fitting that defence played a key role in the outcome after both teams struggled to move the ball at times throughout the game. 

Pittsburgh opened the scoring nearly five minutes into the second quarter with a Ben Roethlisberger (29-of-40 passing for 229 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions) touchdown pass to Najee Harris and took a 14-0 lead into half-time. 

Seattle – without injured star quarterback Russell Wilson – answered after the break with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter and eventually tied the game 17-17 on a Jason Myers field goal with 12:59 remaining in the fourth. 

Boswell then hit from 53 yards with 1:29 remaining before Myers answered from 43 at the buzzer to send it to overtime – though not without controversy. 

The Steelers believed they had the game won when Seattle's DK Metcalf fumbled after a reception and Seahawks receiver Freddie Swain recovered, leaving the visitors scrambling to stop the clock for a field-goal try. 

Officials then did it for them, stopping play for a video review while Smith tried to race to the line and spike the ball. Replay confirmed the initial play was ruled correctly but the stoppage gave the Seahawks time to spike it and set up Myers' game-tying try. 

Watt's big play in overtime ultimately rendered that complaint moot. 

Ben Roethlisberger said "I need to be better" as the embattled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback accepted blame for the team's forgettable start to the NFL season.

Roethlisberger has been criticised and his future questioned amid Pittsburgh's 1-3 start to the 2021 campaign following three consecutive defeats.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards, a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating in last week's 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin continues to field questions on Roethlisberger, the player himself took responsibility for the situation on Wednesday.

"I need to be better," Roethlisberger told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with the Denver Broncos.

"I need to fight through and figure out how to make better decisions, how to make better throws, how to be a better football player. That's why I just said I'm not going to quit. I'm going to keep doing that.

"I'm not giving up on this season. No one in this building is. It's still early, and there's still a lot of fight left in us."

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season among qualifying quarterbacks, only ahead of Miami Dolphins backup Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

His passer rating has decreased from 94.1 in 2020 – the third-largest drop (-15.2) behind Packers star Aaron Rodgers (-20.7) and Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (-19.6).

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions, 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third-worst in the NFL.

"I know that I can play better football," Roethlisberger said. "I believe in myself. I know that no matter what's going on, I'm going to fight my butt off to get a win, and if that's the way I need to lead right now, by showing these guys that I'm going to do everything I can to win a football game, I'll keep doing that."

On Tuesday, Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with a hip issue, and the latter added: "It's pretty sore. If I showed you the picture, you might not be too well to your stomach. It's a little black and blue.

"As a quarterback, there's so much involved in your lower body. People probably think as a quarterback or as a thrower, it's 'how's your arm doing?' Your arm is honestly a small part compared to the whole package. It's your core. It's your lower body.

"I've got to find ways to be better with my lower body. Going back and watching the game, a few times, a lot of throws I missed were missed because my lower body wasn't in sync."

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said under-fire quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "absolutely" the best option to lead the team's struggling offense.

Roethlisberger struggled again in Week 4 of the NFL season as the Steelers (1-3) suffered a third consecutive defeat, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating.

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season, only ahead of Miami Dolphins QB Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

"Absolutely," Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether Roethlisberger remains the right quarterback for the offense.

"What he does and what he's done makes me really comfortable in saying that."

Tomlin added: "It's him some, it's us collectively some. We've just got to keep working. Sometimes it can be attributed to the altering of plans late in the week because of player availability or guys not being available. ...

"We've had some big-play opportunities, we [haven't] cashed in on them. We need to cash in on them.

"They're a big component of moving the ball and scoring, particularly when you're not working as efficiently as you like on possession downs, which we aren't. ... We're also going to work to connect on a higher percentages of these chunk opportunities because that aids us in terms of ringing up the scoreboard, as well."

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third worst in the NFL.

Asked if he was concerned about the level of Roethlisberger's safety behind the line, Tomlin said: "Not out of the ordinary. I'm sure if you reviewed the tape and looked at these visits [news conferences] from the first 11 weeks of last year and probably said similar things. He was upright and we were undefeated.

"There's probably a component of just being in your late 30s and playing this game and playing that position and particularly when you're not playing winning football and you get somewhat one dimensional, there's collateral damage that gets associated with that for him and for us."

"Ben used to be able to run really good when he was young," Tomlin said of this week's clash with the Denver Broncos. "Those days are behind him.

"Other than that, I don't see much that's not a discussion in terms of technical alterations or quality of play that can be improved."

Russell Wilson produced a vintage performance to lead the Seattle Seahawks past the San Francisco 49ers 28-21.

Wilson celebrated his 100th NFL victory as the Seahawks (2-2) rallied past the 49ers (2-2) in San Francisco on Sunday.

The Super Bowl champion finished 16-of-23 passing for two touchdowns, while he rushed for another TD on four carries.

Wilson joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the second quarterback in NFL history to win 100 games in their first 10 seasons.

The 49ers – with Jimmy Garoppolo starting under center – took an early 7-0 lead but that was as good as it got for San Francisco on home soil.

Wilson's 12-yard pass to DK Metcalf ensured the scores were tied at half-time before the former dominated in the third period – the eight-time Pro Bowler's 16-yard run putting the Seahawks 14-7 ahead and Freddie Swain then caught a throw to stretch the lead to 14 points.

Trey Lance – who completed nine of his 18 passes for 157 yards and two TDs – replaced Garoppolo (calf) in the second half and the rookie QB kept the 49ers in the contest with a monster 76-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel during the closing stages of the third quarter.

After an Alex Collins touchdown gave the Seahawks a 28-13 lead early in the final period, Lance combined with Samuel again at the death, but it was too little, too late.

 

Cardinals stay unbeaten behind Murray

Kyler Murray inspired the high-flying Arizona Cardinals to a 37-20 win at the previously undefeated Los Angeles Rams.

Murray passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 39 more yards as the red-hot Cardinals improved to 4-0 this season.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb guided the Green Bay Packers to a third consecutive win – a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers and Cobb connected for two touchdowns and ran for another score at home to the Steelers.

Packers superstar Rodgers threw his 420th career TD pass – tying Dan Marino for sixth all-time.

Under-fire Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw his 400th career touchdown pass – the eighth player to do so.

Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are refusing to panic amid their slow start to the NFL season and Ben Roethlisberger's offensive woes.

The Steelers are 1-2 to open the 2021 campaign following last week's surprise 24-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Doubts over two-time Super Bowl champion Roethlisberger have emerged after the 39-year-old quarterback threw two interceptions, finishing 38-of-58 passing for 318 yards and a touchdown.

Through three games, Roethlisberger – a seven-time Pro Bowler – has completed 83 of 130 attempts for three TDs, three interceptions and eight sacks.

Despite the poor start, Steelers head coach Tomlin is refusing to panic heading into Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers (2-1).

"We're not going to push the panic button," Tomlin said during Tuesday's news conference. "What do I mean by the panic button? We're not going to dramatically change who and what we are at this juncture.

"We're not resistant to change for the purposes of getting better, but we're not going to be so unsteady that we move away from our compass, our identity that we've worked hard to develop.

"We will continue to work hard to develop and the emphasis on the style of play, whatever that may be in all three phases."

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a franchise-best 11-0 start to the season in 2020 and an AFC North crown before losing to the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round.

This season, only Miami Dolphins signal-caller Jacoby Brissett (67.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (60.3) and first-year New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (51.6) have a worse passer rating than Roethlisberger (79.0).

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (63.8) is only good enough for 25th, well adrift of Dallas Cowboys star and NFL leader Dak Prescott (77.5).

"This guy has a body of work over the course of not only what we've done in preparation this season, but over the course of 18 years that has us taking that approach," Tomlin said of Roethlisberger and his ongoing rest days on Wednesday.

"That is a global approach. It rests him and rightfully so. He's an older guy, and the wear and tear of plays affects him differently than younger guys. But also, he's an older guy and he has a volume of plays that most guys can't pull from that probably requires more physical work in an effort to be ready to play.

"Also, you've got to look at the totality of the journey. We're going into Game 4. We've got many games that lay ahead, and I don't want to be fielding questions late in the year about the quality of his throwing arm, for example."

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is battling injury which coach Mike Tomlin means they will need to be "adjustable" for Sunday's Week 3 game with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers veteran was hit 10 times and sacked twice in Pittsburgh's 26-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 2.

Roethlisberger was also sacked twice in the Steelers' 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.

The 39-year-old is nursing a left pectoral injury which will impact his preparation for the Bengals game, and potentially his on-field role.

"We'd better be ready to be adjustable," Tomlin told NFL Network.

"He took too many hits. We can run the ball better. We can get the ball out of his hand quicker.

"We can stay on schedule and not get behind the sticks and get in situations where the line of the game is so far that that that enhances the rush."

Tomlin added that he was unsure how Roethlisberger picked up the pec complaint.

"I don't know specifically when Ben got injured in game. I don't know that he does," he said.

"Sometimes just in the midst of competition, adrenaline and so forth, you just don't know. Sometimes things just come up after."

The Steelers have numerous injuries including T.J. Witt, Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush and Joe Haden.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is excited to run the team's new offense heading into the new NFL season.

Roethlisberger is gearing up for his 18th season with the Steelers after the 39-year-old agreed a new restructured contract in Pittsburgh, where he will make his first preseason appearance against the Detroit Lions.

The two-time Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowler is relishing the opportunity to work alongside new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan.

"We have a new system," Roethlisberger told reporters of the need to play against the Lions. "There's a new coach to player communication in terms of a new guy. The offense is different. He's up in the box as compared to on the field.

"There is a lot of newness. I think it's prudent to get as much time as I can under those circumstances."

"I would love to get as many reps as I can," said Roethlisberger. "It's been how many months since I've actually stepped on the football field to take a hit? I know it's preseason, but still just meaningful reps. With the newness of it I'd definitely like to get as much as I can.

"I guess it depends on how we're doing, how it feels. I really wanted to try and play last week because it was on the road and that would have been our first opportunity to play on the road and the situation, with circumstances like crowd noise and things like that before we go into a very hostile environment in week one. But coach, I couldn't talk him into it."

Roethlisberger helped Pittsburgh – who have one of the best defenses in the NFL – to an incredible 11-0 start last season.

But they ran out of steam badly down the stretch, losing four of their last five to finish 12-4 before a stunning 48-37 Wild Card playoff defeat to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger was coming back from a serious elbow injury which saw him miss all but two games of the 2019 campaign.

His play was steady but unspectacular, leading a Steelers offense that averaged 250.5 net passing yards per game, 15th best in the NFL.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games, with a 94.1 passer rating (19th among qualifying QBs).

At 9.65 yards per completion – the lowest rate in the league – the veteran was more of a game manager than the downfield threat of old.

Roethlisberger added: "The challenge of newness. I spent a lot of time at home, going over it, reading it, watching film. I was telling my wife the other night that I think maybe it's even better that there's some new stuff because it almost refocuses you in a way.

"If this was still the same stuff, I would probably go home and be like okay I'll watch the film and be ready to move on. But last night I watched the film, and I went back over everything again to refresh my mind. I think because it's different. I want to make sure that I'm not the reason that we struggle."

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games – it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

"Some of the new concepts I'll have it and I'll go home and I'll look at it and I'm like wait, what is this guy…if you think about it on every pass play for instance, I have to know what five guys are doing. It's not just one guy or just what I'm doing," he continued.

"So, I have to know who the hot is and what each specific guy is doing so there'll be times that I know what maybe three of them are doing and will be like, 'Wait, what's this guy doing again.' I just have to just try and refresh in my mind."

Judging draft picks in the immediate aftermath of their selection can be a foolhardy endeavour, as the success of rookies that enter the league depends on several factors including situation, opportunity and luck.

While it is tough to dole out grades for players who have not even hit the practice field for their new teams, it is possible to assess the totality of a franchise's moves in a draft and determine who has been impacted, positively and negatively, by those player selections.

In a draft dominated by a historic level of talent at the position, it is the classes of teams that made changes at quarterback that will likely have the most significant influence on the league.

After five quarterbacks went in the first round, we use Stats Perform data to determine the winners and losers from a draft that should go on to be remembered as one of the most important in NFL history.


Winners

Chicago Bears fans

Who knows whether the Justin Fields-era in Chicago will be a success? The weight of history surrounding Bears quarterbacks suggests it has a very good chance of being a failure.

But by trading up to land the Ohio State quarterback instead of committing to a year of purgatory with Andy Dalton, the Bears ensured they should be significantly more watchable in 2021, assuming post-draft talk about wanting to sit Fields behind Dalton proves false.

Fields is an exciting downfield thrower who averaged 10.10 air yards per attempt in the 2020 college season. It is an imperfect comparison given the difference in the level of competition but the two Bears starters in 2019, Mitchell Trubisky (7.94) and Nick Foles (7.92), each averaged under eight air yards per attempt.

And Fields was accurate when he pushed the ball downfield. On throws of 15 air yards or more, 76.47 per cent were well thrown, compared to 71.43 for Lawrence, 69.41 for Wilson and 67.39 for 15th overall pick Mac Jones.

His aggressive style should mesh well with number one receiver Allen Robinson, who was fifth in the NFL with 908 of his receiving yards coming at the point of reception.

Fields will also have the benefit of improved protection from a nasty offensive tackle in the form of second-round pick Teven Jenkins.

Jenkins allowed a pressure rate of 2.9 per cent in 2020, third among tackles with at least 100 pass protection snaps. The top tackle in that regard was Larry Borom of Missouri (1.8%), whom Chicago drafted in the fifth round.

Chicago also further helped Fields' cause by drafting Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert, who was second in the Power 5 in yards per carry (7.63) among running backs with at least 100 carries and Dazz Newsome, the North Carolina wideout who was 11th in burn percentage (71) among receivers with at least 25 slot targets. 

The Bears have been a chore to watch in recent years. It isn't clear whether the move up for Fields will work and it is debatable whether general manager Ryan Pace should have been allowed to make it given his track record, but there is finally reason for a passionate fanbase to be genuinely excited about their team.

Zach Wilson

Wilson going second overall to the Jets was no secret, but New York did an excellent job of taking steps to ensure concerns over his one season of elite production against non-Power 5 opposition do not prove prescient by surrounding him with talent.

A trade up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker raised eyebrows but his pressure rate allowed of 1.3 per cent when playing left guard for USC in 2019 was the best in the Power 5 and suggests he can lock down that spot for the next decade for the Jets.

Wide receiver Elijah Moore brings inside-out versatility and should have gone in the first round. Instead, the Ole Miss star went 34th overall to the Jets, adding a wideout who led the FBS in receiving yards per game (149.1) last season to an intriguing group that includes Denzel Mims, Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

Third-round running back Michael Carter will give offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur a versatile skill set to utilise.

The North Carolina back led Power 5 runners with 100 carries or more in yards per carry (7.98) and yards before contact per rush (5.36) in 2020.

As a receiver, Carter was eighth among those Power 5 backs, who also had a minimum of 10 targets, in burn yards per target (10.86).

Carter should, therefore, be able to have a substantial impact in the zone-running scheme the Jets will employ in 2021 and influence the passing game significantly.

Growing pains are to be expected in Wilson's rookie season in New York but this was a draft in which the Jets went to great lengths to make his adaptation to the pros as smooth as possible.

Lamar Jackson

Every year, the Baltimore Ravens do an excellent job of letting the draft board come to them and reaping the rewards.

In 2020, they stole linebacker Patrick Queen in the back end of the first round. This year they grabbed arguably the most well-refined receiver in the draft, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, with the 27th overall pick.

A truncated 2020 season in which he played just five games following a bout of coronavirus may not have helped Bateman's stock, but his 2019 tape showed a receiver who can develop into a number one target for Lamar Jackson.

Bateman can excel at all levels of the field and his downfield upside shone through in 2019, when he was open on 70.8 per cent of his targets in 2019 with an average depth of target of 16.2 yards.

His burn yards per target average of 16.15 was sixth among all Power 5 receivers with at least 50 targets two seasons ago, with Henry Ruggs III and Chris Olave the only players in the same group to produce a superior big-play percentage to Bateman's 50.4.

Big plays in the passing game have not been consistent for the Ravens. Jackson (25) had fewer passing plays of 25 yards or more than Teddy Bridgewater (27) and Drew Lock (28) in 2020.

Bateman has the talent to greatly increase that tally of explosive plays while the addition of Tylan Wallace, who was eighth among Power 5 receivers with a minimum of 50 targets last season with a burn yards per route average of 4.33, should further boost Jackson's hopes of bouncing back as a passer in 2021.

Having also addressed the interior of the offensive line by drafting Ben Cleveland, whose pressure rate allowed of 2.7 per cent was seventh among Power 5 guards last season, in the third round, Jackson goes into 2021 in an excellent position to take the passing game to levels that escaped the 2019 MVP in 2020.

In the coming season, Jackson will have much better weapons and should have improved protection. If the Ravens' offense falls short again in the playoffs in 2021, he won't have much room for excuses.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh lost left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and the versatile Matt Feiler in free agency but did nothing to fill either of the voids left by that duo until the third round when they picked up athletic Illinois guard Kendrick Green. Tackle Dan Moore was picked in the fourth round.

Instead, they spent their first two picks on a running back and a tight end in Alabama's Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth of Penn State, stacking the offense with further weapons for Ben Roethlisberger in what will likely be his last season in the NFL.

But, beyond running back, weapons were not the need for the Steelers. Harris is an upgrade in the backfield but he averaged only 2.14 yards after contact per rush last season, below the Power 5 average of 2.21, and typically the offensive line has just as much of an impact on running game production as the back.

A failure to prioritise the trenches could result in Harris struggling to evade defenders that the O-Line has allowed into the backfield. More worryingly for Roethlisberger, the lack of a dependable replacement at left tackle could leave a quarterback who missed 14 games as recently as 2019 open to punishment from opposing pass rushers.

Roethlisberger completed 50.7 per cent of his passes when under pressure in 2020, the fifth-worst number of all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If this is to be his swansong, the Steelers are not setting him up for a successful one.

Trevor Lawrence

Ok, so Trevor Lawrence is a winner. He's the number one overall pick and is set to be paid millions to take his talents to the highest level.

But, in terms of the situation he is going into in Jacksonville, the Jaguars did little to help him.

With the 25th pick, they passed up the chance to boost their pass-catching options in favour of drafting his Clemson team-mate, running back Travis Etienne, following a 2020 season in which undrafted rookie James Robinson finished the year sixth in yards after contact per attempt (2.34). 

Simply put, Etienne was the definition of an unnecessary luxury pick.

Tyson Campbell was a decent value pick at 33rd overall in the second round but Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke, who developed a reputation during his time running the San Francisco 49ers for taking ill-advised risks on players with bad injury histories, picked a safety in Andre Cisco who tore his ACL in September and offensive tackle Walker Little, who has not played a game since 2019, when he featured in just one before suffering a knee injury.

The only pass-catching additions came in the form of a 29-year-old tight end, Luke Farrell, in the fifth round and wide receiver Jalen Camp in the sixth. 

Between D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault, Lawrence does have reasonable weapons, but the Jags did not do much to add to his arsenal.

NFC West run defenses

Teams trying to stop the 49ers' ground game have had a hard time since Kyle Shanahan became head coach in 2017.

Their 224 rushes of 10 yards or more are tied sixth in the NFL in that time, and that tally looks set to increase after San Francisco drafted a franchise quarterback in Trey Lance who boasts a devastating mix of speed and power in the open field.

Lance's 14 touchdowns in 2019 were bettered by just four quarterbacks across the FBS and FCS, his rushing average of 6.5 yards fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 rushes.

San Francisco then added further to their ground game by picking Trey Sermon in the third round and Elijah Mitchell in the sixth.

In the Power 5 and Group of Five, just four running backs with a minimum of 100 attempts had a better yards per carry average than Sermon's 7.50 last season.

Burst to the second level is a key trait for Sermon, who was fourth in average yards before contact per attempt with 4.85.

The electric Mitchell, meanwhile, averaged the third-most yards after contact per attempt, putting up 3.23 per rush, a rate beaten by Javonte Williams (4.59) and Jaret Patterson (3.25).

Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are each free agents in 2022 but, by drafting Lance, Sermon and Mitchell, the Niners ensured their run game is about to get more diverse and potentially more destructive.

For the three NFC West teams that face them twice a year, that is simply terrible news.

The times they are a-changin' in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to spend one more season led by a veteran quarterback ill-equipped to help them stem the tide.

Pittsburgh made no secret of a desire to move on from Ben Roethlisberger this offseason, but the best the Steelers could do was to restructure his contract, with his new deal voiding after 2021, making him a free agent and likely ending a glittering career next year.

But that means they will have to go into the new season with a 39-year-old signal-caller coming off one of the most inefficient seasons of his time in the league, in which the Steelers started 11-0 only to fade badly down the stretch and suffer a humiliating playoff loss to long-time AFC North whipping boys the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens look well-placed to contend again, and the Steelers are in a position where the team around Roethlisberger must elevate him to levels that now appear beyond the two-time Super Bowl winner to ensure they can compete.

How should Pittsburgh go about achieving that goal? We attempt to find the answers by using Stats Perform data to analyse their 2020 campaign and their offseason moves so far.

Offense

Whenever he decides to bring his career to an end, Roethlisberger is a near-certainty to reach the Hall of Fame.

However, in 2020 he was at the helm of one of the least dynamic offenses in football, with Pittsburgh's struggles illustrated by a yards per play average of 5.13 that ranked a lowly 26th in the NFL.

The lack of a consistent downfield element to the passing game was a significant contributor to the Steelers' problems on offense.

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt average of 6.3 was the lowest of his career across seasons in which he has played double-digit games - it was 5.7 in his two appearances in 2019.

He had 43 pass plays that went for 20 yards or more, tied for 17th, though yards after catch was clearly a massive contributor to those plays. Pittsburgh ranked eighth with 50.4 per cent of the Steelers' gross passing yardage made up by yards after the catch.

His passer rating of 81.0 on throws of at least 21 air yards was 18th among quarterbacks with 25 such attempts and he completed only 30.2 per cent of those attempts (22nd of 28 QBs with a minimum of 25 attempts).

There were still bright spots on the passing offense even in a down year, the most prominent of which was rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool led all rookies with nine receiving touchdowns. Five of those were of a distance of at least 20 yards, with only Tyreek Hill (nine) and Nelson Agholor (six) recording more such touchdown receptions

Beyond Roethlisberger's issues pushing the ball downfield, the running game was a source of major frustration for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers were last with a yards per carry average of 3.62, their 32 runs of 10 yards or more were also the fewest in the league and only three teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than their 12.

If the Steelers want to maximise Roethlisberger's hopes of a bounce-back year, they must give him more support from the ground game.

Defense

The Steelers succeeded despite the travails of their offense in large part because their defense was again one of the best in the league.

Pittsburgh finished the year with the third-best mark in terms of yards per play allowed, giving up an average of 4.91.

Conceding 55 scores (touchdowns or field goals) from 188 opponent drives, the Steelers were second in opponent scoring efficiency behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Their stingy performance on defense was fuelled by a ferocious pass rush, which led the league in sacks (56) and knockdowns (129) while finishing fourth in hurries (180).

T.J. Watt was the leader of that potent front seven, the 2017 first-round pick missing out on Defensive Player of the Year despite leading the league with 15.0 sacks.

He lost out to Aaron Donald, who had the edge in terms of combined knockdowns and hurries, posting 94.5 to Watt's 83.

The efforts of Watt and Bud Dupree, who had 8.0 sacks before tearing his ACL in Week 12, helped the Steelers finish second with 27 takeaways.

Five of those takeaways were produced by Minkah Fitzpatrick (four interceptions and one fumble recovery) in another stellar campaign for the All-Pro safety.

While this was a second successive year in which the Steelers were a top-five defense in yards per play, elite play is typically tougher for defenses to maintain than offenses.

Performing to that standard for a third straight year will be a substantial challenge, and one that may prove beyond them if they cannot find a replacement for the departed Dupree.

Offseason

While there are elite talents at running back that should be within the Steelers' reach in the first round of the draft, the priorities should be two positions at which they now have holes.

The Steelers may hope Alex Highsmith can step up and fill the void left by Dupree - five of his six quarterback hits as a rookie came after he took over the starting role from the now Tennessee Titans pass rusher - but they will have much better odds of effectively replacing him by adding a draft prospect into the mix.

Of more pressing concern, however, is likely to be the left tackle position. The Steelers did not make an effort to bring back veteran Alejandro Villanueva, a move likely motivated by the depth of this year's tackle class in the draft.

If the Steelers can land a rookie tackle who can step in and can maintain solid protection for Roethlisberger while improving the line's ability to open holes for the backs, he will do more for an offense that badly stuttered down the stretch than any of the top runners in the draft.

Assuming they succeed in doing so, Roethlisberger will have an excellent support system around him once more, with Juju Smith-Schuster surprisingly returning to keep an excellent receiving corps intact.

Yet, after a dismal end to 2020, Roethlisberger's ability to make the most of that support system is firmly in doubt. As such, it would be no surprise to see the Steelers spend a day-two pick on a rookie passer who can provide better competition for a quarterback who is certainly not their long-term future and may not even be a short-term solution.

Ben Roethlisberger has agreed a new restructured contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep him as the team's starting quarterback for 2021.

A $41.25million cap hit on Roethlisberger's previous contract meant his future with the team was in doubt as the offseason began.

After a meeting with the QB last month, Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement indicating the team's desire to have Roethlisberger back for an 18th season with the franchise.

Roethlisberger had also said he was willing to have his cap hit lowered and the two teams confirmed on Thursday – under two weeks before the start of free agency – that a deal had been done.

"It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization," Roethlisberger said after the new contract was confirmed. 

"I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. 

"I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. 

"It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go."

Roethlisberger helped Pittsburgh – who have one of the best defenses in the NFL - to an incredible 11-0 start last season.

But they ran out of steam badly down the stretch, losing four of their last five to finish 12-4 before a stunning 48-37 Wild Card playoff defeat to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger, 39, was coming back from a serious elbow injury which saw him miss all but two games of the 2019 campaign.

His play was steady but unspectacular, leading a Steelers offense that averaged 250.5 net passing yards per game, 15th best in the NFL.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games, with a 94.1 passer rating (19th among qualifying QBs).

At 9.65 yards per completion – the lowest rate in the league – the veteran was more of a game manager than the downfield threat of old.

But despite fellow 2004 draftee Philip Rivers joining Eli Manning in retirement, Roethlisberger will play on in pursuit of a third Super Bowl.

"We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021," said general manager Kevin Colbert. 

"We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. 

"Our goal remains the same – to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. 

"We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal."

Ben Roethlisberger has publicly stated he would like to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. The team has now confirmed the feeling is mutual.

Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement on Wednesday indicating the team's desire to have Roethlisberger back for an 18th season with the franchise, adding that they will soon enter negotiations to adjust the longtime quarterback's contract. 

"Ben Roethlisberger and I met [Tuesday] morning and we had a productive meeting. We were able to discuss a lot of things that relate to where we are and where we want to go," Rooney stated.

"Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to win a championship. We both understand that the next step is to work out Ben's contract situation.

"We owe it to him to have a conversation about how he wants to end his career, and we intend to that."

Rooney's remarks come one day after Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, told NFL.com that the Steelers are open to his client's return on a renegotiated contract. The two-time Super Bowl champion carries a $41.25 million cap hit for 2021, the highest of any player, with the salary cap expected to decrease due to revenue lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As we've shared since the season ended, we are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible," Tollner said. 

Roethlisberger turns 39 in March and has drawn widespread speculation about his future due to his advanced age and Pittsburgh's current lack of salary cap flexibility, as well as a decline in play during the second half of a 2020 season that ended with a disappointing home loss to the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card Playoff round.

Making a successful comeback from a career-threatening elbow injury that limited him to two games in 2019, Roethlisberger threw for 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions while producing a 103.0 passer rating through his first nine starts of last season – all Pittsburgh wins.

The six-time Pro Bowler was intercepted six times and had an 83.2 rating over his next six starts, however, as the Steelers went 3-3 and eventually dropped to the AFC's No. 3 playoff seed. 

Roethlisberger did set an NFL postseason record with 47 completions while throwing for 501 yards and four touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s lone playoff game, but was picked off four times as the Steelers were dealt a 48-37 loss to the rival Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers want Ben Roethlisberger back next season and the star quarterback is "happy to creatively adjust his contract", according to his agent Ryan Tollner.

Roethlisberger revealed in January that he is planning to return for an 18th NFL season, ideally with the Steelers.

The 38-year-old's current deal would see him count for $41.25million against the salary cap in Pittsburgh.

As question marks remain over the two-time Super Bowl champion, Tollner provided an update on Tuesday.

"They want Ben back and will contact me soon to address his cap situation," Tollner NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala.

"As we've shared since the season ended, we are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible. A year ago, Ben wasn't sure if he could throw again, but he battled back to get 12 wins and the eighth division title of his career.

"They lost steam down the stretch and that doesn't sit well for him, so the fire burns strong and there is plenty of gas in the tank."

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020, helping the Steelers finish the regular season with a 12-4 record that was enough to win the AFC North.  

However, after reaching 11-0 at one stage, Pittsburgh suffered a late-season slump that continued into the playoffs, as the Steelers lost 48-37 to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round.  

A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Roethlisberger threw four touchdowns and 501 yards but was also picked off four times in the defeat to the Browns on January 10. 

Ben Roethlisberger may want to carry on playing but it remains unclear if the veteran quarterback will be back with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

Roethlisberger revealed in January that he is planning to return for an 18th NFL season, ideally with the Steelers. Such is his desire to stay with the franchise, the 38-year-old confirmed a willingness to restructure his contract.  

That current deal would see him count for $41.25million against the salary cap – a number that may be too high for Pittsburgh's taste. 

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, general manager Kevin Colbert said Roethlisberger could yet continue with the franchise, though stopped short of making any commitment to a player they selected with the 11th pick in the 2004 draft. 

"As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers," Colbert said, according to ESPN reporter Brooke Pryor. 

"He reiterated to us that he wants to continue to play. We told him we have to look at this current situation." 

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2020, helping the Steelers finish the regular season with a 12-4 record that was enough to win the AFC North.  

However, after reaching 11-0 at one stage, they suffered a late-season slump that continued into the playoffs, as they lost 48-37 to divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round.  

"Ben Roethlisberger did a lot of really good things last year. We anticipate that he could still do really good things going forward," Colbert continued.  

"Hopefully we can figure out how to do what's best for the organisation and for Ben. Hopefully he'll be able to see that." 

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin had said it was "reasonable to assume there is a chance" of Roethlisberger returning for another campaign following the surprising postseason exit.  

A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Roethlisberger threw four touchdowns and 501 yards but was also picked off four times in the defeat to the Browns on January 10. 

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