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.

Trey Lance threw his first NFL touchdown and Jimmy Garoppolo excelled but the San Francisco 49ers were forced to hold off a near-miraculous rally from the Detroit Lions in a 41-33 thriller.

Rookie third overall pick Lance was not able to win the starting quarterback job from Garoppolo, yet he still made his regular-season debut at Ford Field on Sunday, and he took his first snap with the Niners on the Detroit 16-yard line on their second drive of the day.

His second snap saw him hit Trent Sherfield for a five-yard touchdown pass and, though Detroit responded with Jared Goff connecting with tight end T.J. Hockenson, Garoppolo's 314-yard performance, which included a 79-yard touchdown throw to Deebo Samuel, scores on the ground from rookie Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty and a Dre Greenlaw pick-six appeared to have put the game beyond all doubt.

San Francisco led 41-17 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a Jamaal Williams short-yardage plunge followed by a two-point conversion provided Detroit a glimmer of hope that grew brighter when George Kittle was unable to field an onside kick.

The Lions subsequently drove down the field and Goff found Quintez Cephus for a two-yard touchdown and another two-point conversion. They then had a chance to tie the game following a fumble from Samuel, but Detroit could not complete an incredible comeback to force overtime.

Samson Ebukam's pressure forced Goff into an errant throw, allowing the Niners to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

It was, however, a pyrrhic victory for San Francisco, who lost cornerback Jason Verrett to what head coach Kyle Shanahan believes is a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Though the 49ers took defensive starters out of the game following Verrett's injury with what eventually proved an insurmountable lead, the ease with which the Lions moved the ball late in the game should be of concern to San Francisco, especially with two of their NFC West rivals enjoying excellent days.

The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks each won comfortably. Kyler Murray threw for four touchdowns and ran for another while defensive end Chandler Jones had five sacks in the Cardinals' easy 38-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, while Russell Wilson had four touchdown passes for the Seahawks as they saw off the Indianapolis Colts 28-16.

Steelers stun Bills

While not quite as dramatic as events in Detroit, the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Buffalo Bills at Orchard Park was certainly unexpected.

The Bills led 10-0 at the end of the first half, but Josh Allen was sacked three times as the Steelers held a usually explosive offense in check.

And, after a pair of field goals from Chris Boswell, Diontae Johnson's spectacular catch at the back of the endzone in the fourth quarter gave them a lead they would not relinquish.

Ulysees Gilbert III recovered a blocked punt to make it 19-10 Steelers, Mike Tomlin's men going on to close out a 23-16 win that deals an early blow to a Bills team seen as Super Bowl contenders.

Burrow makes winning return

Last year's number one overall pick Joe Burrow made his return from a serious knee injury in the Cincinnati Bengals' clash with the Minnesota Vikings, and it proved a successful one in a thriller at Paul Brown Stadium.

He connected with college team-mate Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick by the Bengals this year, for a 50-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give Cincinnati a lead that they eventually let slip late in the fourth quarter when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph tied matters at 24-24 with a 53-yard field goal.

That forced overtime, but a Dalvin Cook fumble in Bengals territory handed Burrow and the Bengals the chance to clinch it, and he did just that with a drive that set up Evan McPherson's 33-yard field goal and sealed a 27-24 success.

This year's number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, endured a very different day. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions as the Jacksonville Jaguars were beaten 37-21 by the Houston Texans.

The NFL returned in spectacular fashion on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged the Dallas Cowboys in a thriller.

It is a remarkable appetiser to the main course of Week 1, which sees 14 more games on Sunday and another on Monday between the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.

There is a mouth-watering playoff rematch to behold at Arrowhead Stadium, while a clutch of rookie quarterbacks will attempt to make sure their first steps in the league are successful ones.

Ahead of what should be an enthralling opening week, Stats Perform looks at some of the most interesting facts from Sunday's biggest games.

Cleveland Browns @ Kansas City Chiefs

Revenge will be on the minds of the Browns in the most enticing matchup of the opening week, Cleveland aiming to upset the odds after falling short against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs.

History, though, is firmly against Cleveland. The Chiefs have won three straight games against the Browns dating back to 2013, while Andy Reid is 7-0 in his career as a head coach versus the Browns, one of three teams he is undefeated against. The others are the Chiefs (3-0) and his former team the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0).

Kevin Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record in 2020, his first year as an NFL head coach. It was the most wins in a season by the Browns since 1994 (also 11 wins). The last time the Browns won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons was 1986 to 1988 (three straight).

The Chiefs set a franchise record with 14 wins in 2020 and played in the Super Bowl for the second straight season, with Kansas City the favourites to be the AFC's representative in the February showpiece yet again. Only three teams have ever made the Super Bowl in three straight seasons – the Buffalo Bills (four, 1990-93), New England Patriots (three, 2016-18) and Miami Dolphins (three, 1971-73).

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills

The Bills were a game away from the Super Bowl last season and enter this clash between a new AFC heavyweight and a seemingly fading force on a regular-season winning streak.

In a campaign that saw them go 13-3 and post their best record since 1991, the Bills finished the regular season with six straight wins averaging an NFL-best 38.2 points during that span.

Pittsburgh began last season 11-0, then dropped four of their last five games, finishing with an opening-round exit to the Browns in the playoffs. The Steelers were the first team to start 11-0 since the 2015 Carolina Panthers.

And the Steelers will be looking to avoid a third straight defeat to the Bills, who made it two successive wins over Pittsburgh with last season's 26-15 victory in Week 14. The Steelers had won nine of the previous 10 meetings dating back to 1993. 

Green Bay Packers @ New Orleans Saints

The Drew Brees era is over for the Saints, who have selected Jameis Winston as his successor at quarterback. The Packers have a talented defense but the often-erratic Winston's past form suggests he should move the ball against them. Winston has averaged 12.62 yards per completion over his career, the highest mark by any QB who has debuted in the past 30 years (minimum 1,500 completions).

Two perennial NFC powers, games between New Orleans and Green Bay have been consistently high-scoring affairs. The Saints and Packers have combined to average 52.0 points per game in their 26 all-time meetings, the highest average between any two NFL teams who have met at least 20 times.

Green Bay won 13 games in each of the last two seasons but failed to make the Super Bowl in either one. The Packers joined the 2018-19 Saints as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win 13+ games in back-to-back seasons but miss the Super Bowl in both.

Elsewhere...

It will be a season partially defined by the performance of the rookie quarterbacks, with four of the five drafted in the first round seemingly set to feature in Week 1.

The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with their first-ever number one overall pick. When he lines up against the Houston Texans, Lawrence will be the eighth different QB to start a season opener for the Jaguars since 2010, tied for second most in the NFL behind the Browns (nine). 

Second overall pick Zach Wilson is set to become the 49th starting quarterback in New York Jets history when they face the Carolina Panthers and his predecessor Sam Darnold. No Jets quarterback has started every game of a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015, which happens to be the last time the Jets had a winning record (10-6).

Trey Lance will likely see sporadic action for the San Francisco 49ers versus the Detroit Lions. However, if Jimmy Garoppolo's spotty injury history continues in 2021, Lance could soon become the undisputed starter. Garoppolo was limited to six games last season. In three of the games, Garoppolo passed for multiple touchdowns with no interceptions. In the other three, Garoppolo had no touchdown passes and at least one interception.

The New England Patriots have used just four starting quarterbacks in their season openers since 2000, with Mac Jones poised to be the fifth as he looks to become the long-term successor to Tom Brady. Only the Packers (two) and Saints (three) have had fewer season-opening starters in that span – the NFL average in that time is 7.5 quarterbacks.

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."

The Dallas Cowboys remain hopeful Dak Prescott will be ready for the season opener despite a shoulder injury that knocked him out of training camp, but they got a look at their other quarterback options as they opened the NFL pre-season on Thursday. 

Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush turned in solid performances even though they were unable to lead a touchdown drive in a 16-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Gilbert got the start and completed nine of 13 attempts for 104 yards and a 93.1 passer rating, while Rush came on in the second quarter and was eight-of-13 for 70 yards and a 75.8 rating.

Gilbert twice drove the Cowboys into the red zone but Dallas was left to settle for two field-goal tries, with Hunter Niswander making only one of them.

Niswander missed another field goal at the end of the first half, this one a 52-yarder, and Rush saw another of his drives end in a lost fumble by Malik Turner.

Despite those miscues, Dallas out-gained Pittsburgh 217-123 in the first half while racking up 13 first downs to Pittsburgh's six.

"The performance was decent," Gilbert told reporters. "We did some good things.

"Personally, I was a little sloppy with a couple of things, but it was good to knock the rust off. As an offense, we did a nice job overall of getting the ball moving."

Head coach Mike McCarthy concurred, saying he was pleased with the way his offence moved the football, but called for better finishing in the red zone.

They can expect that aspect to improve under Prescott, who did not travel to Canton for the game.

He told Fox Sports from California during the half-time show that he remains optimistic about being able to start the September 9 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We're being cautious," Prescott said. "We're taking it day by day, obviously. It's five weeks before the season opener, so I've got a lot of time. And I'm going to use that time to get myself ready for that game."

The Pittsburgh Steelers have bolstered their pass rush with the signing of veteran Melvin Ingram on a one-year deal.

Knee injuries limited the edge rusher to just seven games in the 2020 season, his final campaign with the Los Angeles Chargers.

He did not register a sack last year but the 32-year-old Ingram has been a consistently productive pass rusher in his career.

Ingram is one sack shy of 50 at the NFL level and should be in a good spot to reach that milestone playing for a Steelers defense that features one of the league's best pass rushers in T.J. Watt.

Watt led the NFL in sacks with 15 last season and was first among edge rushers with a pressure rate of 25.8 per cent.

The attention Watt commands could free up Ingram to regularly wreak havoc in the backfield and revitalise his career in Pittsburgh.

Ingram told ESPN's Josina Anderson: "I definitely feel like it's the place for me.

"I met with coach [Mike] Tomlin. You can tell he's very involved and a players' coach. That's what stood out to me.

"He wants to win and that is what I am on. My role is my role. He just told me to come in and be me. Everyone knows how I play."

T.J. Watt refused to discuss the subject of his contract negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.

The star edge rusher is set to be a free agent in 2022 and, regardless of whether he remains in Pittsburgh beyond 2021, is primed to receive a lucrative contract following a stellar start to his career.

A first-round pick in 2017, Watt has 49.5 sacks to his name since entering the league, with that tally third behind three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (57.5) and Chandler Jones (50).

Still only 26, Watt can likely expect a deal in the region of the five-year, $135million extension signed by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa in July last year.

But, as the Steelers continued their preparations for the 2021 campaign with their mandatory minicamp, Watt decided against discussing his talks with Pittsburgh.

"With respect to the process, I'm not going to be talking about any contract stuff today, " Watt told reporters.

Watt missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award despite a 2020 season that saw him lead the league in sacks with 15. Donald was second with 13.5, though his pressure rate (28.2%) was superior to that of Watt (25.8).

However, Watt is not thinking about being snubbed for that prize.

"I don't think it's driving me. [The] big thing for me is realizing all the plays I didn't make last year," he added. 

"Yeah, there's a lot of good from last year, but there's still a lot to improve on."

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.

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

Head coach Mike Tomlin has signed a three-year contract extension with the Steelers, keeping him in Pittsburgh through the 2024 season.

Tomlin has been in charge of the Steelers since 2007 and won Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009.

The youngest coach to win the Super Bowl, Tomlin and Pittsburgh lost the big game on their next trip two years later and have not returned since.

But the Steelers have repeatedly challenged, reaching the playoffs in nine of his 14 seasons.

In 2020, the Steelers made an 11-0 start before an underwhelming end to the season. Four defeats in five and a 12-4 record was still enough to win the AFC North, but Pittsburgh then suffered a humiliating postseason defeat to division rival the Cleveland Browns.

They are keeping faith with Tomlin, however.

"Mike is one of the most successful head coaches in the National Football League," president Art Rooney II said.

"And we are confident in his leadership to continue to lead our team as we work to win another championship."

The Steelers have favoured continuity, with Tomlin just their third coach since 1969 – the others Hall of Famers Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

Tomlin, whose contract had been set to expire at the end of the coming season, said: "I am extremely grateful for this contract extension and want to thank Art Rooney II and everyone in the organisation for the support in my first 14 seasons.

"We have a goal of winning the organisation's seventh Super Bowl championship, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about this upcoming season."

The Steelers have restructured veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract, so it voids after 2021.

But the 39-year-old is set to start under center for one more season after finishing the previous campaign with an eventful display against the Browns.

Roethlisberger threw for more than 500 yards (501) for the fourth time in his career and set new highs for attempts (68) and completions (47). He finished with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

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.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has confirmed he will be staying with the Pittsburgh Steelers, reportedly on a one-year deal.  

Smith-Schuster was viewed as one of the leading receivers available in free agency, having recorded 308 receptions for 3,726 yards and 26 touchdowns in his four years in the NFL.  

The 24-year-old was rumoured to have held talks with the New York Jets, while ESPN insider Adam Schefter tweeted how the Baltimore Ravens made a "hard push" to sign him.  

However, the wideout has instead committed to another season with the Steelers, the team who drafted him with the 62nd pick in 2017.  

"This is my home, they're gonna need a wrecking ball to take me outta here! PITTSBURGH I LOVE YOU, LET'S GO!!!!!" Smith-Schuster tweeted, along with a video of a popular clip from the film Wolf of Wall Street involving Leonardo DiCaprio.

He then followed up with another post, adding: "Can't say it enough, I love you Pittsburgh. Came in here a young 20 year old and you guys embraced me from the moment I got here. So much love. 

"Had my back thru [sic] everything, all the struggles and success. So hard to leave. See you this Fall in Heinz. WE'RE GOIN CRAZY!!!"

Smith-Schuster had 97 receptions for 831 yards in the 2020 season, having been targeted 128 times. While leading the team in catches, he finished behind Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool in terms of yardage, averaging 8.6 per catch.  

The Steelers ended up with a 12-4 record in the regular season, fading in the closing stages after winning their first 11 games. Their playoff hopes came to an early end, losing to the Cleveland Browns 48-37 in the Wild Card round.

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.

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