The last three weeks have been tough on Pittsburgh Steelers fans. In just a few games, Pittsburgh has gone from undefeated and the top of the NFL standings, to suddenly being the laughing stock of the league after three straight losses, two of which were against teams with a losing record. So what exactly has changed that has led to what is seeming to be a late season collapse? There isn’t one single thing that you can put 100% of the blame on, but there is one significant factor that stands out from the rest as by far the most concerning, and that is the play of QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Ben started the season on fire, and definitely seemed to have silenced his early critics who thought that he wasn’t going to be the same guy after getting season ending elbow surgery last year. During Pittsburgh’s league best 11-0 start, Roethlisberger had 2,800 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions while finding himself in the mix of the NFL’s MVP conversation. In the Steelers recent three game skid, it’s been a different story. Ben in the past three games has had 662 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. While those numbers aren’t terrible, it’s definitely not what you would expect from a future NFL Hall of Famer who is currently in the middle of pushing towards capturing his third Super Bowl ring. It is also important to note that Ben’s stats over the last 3 weeks should probably be much worse. There were at least two or three throws last week against the Bengals that probably should have gone for interceptions. No matter what you think of the 5:4 TD to INT ratio, it’s obvious to everyone that Ben just hasn’t been himself. His accuracy, arm strength, and overall decision making have been questionable to say the least as of late.
Could this just be a bad stretch of games that he’ll eventually bounce back from? It could be, and hopefully it is. However, with Ben being 38 years old, I think it’s time that Steelers fans should at least start to consider that it’s possible that their beloved QB might finally be wearing down. Father Time is undefeated, and eventually Ben will start to regress. If this is Roethlisberger regressing, it’s unfortunate that it had to come in the middle of such a great season, where a Super Bowl run looked more than possible. These next few games are going to be monumental in deciding Ben’s future with the Steelers. If he can get back on track and win these last two games, while also going on a nice playoff run, there will be no question as to who the Steelers QB will be going into next season. On the other hand, if Roethlisberger continues to slide and Pittsburgh is a first round playoff exit, that might be the last game he plays.
Pittsburgh has a history of moving forward past older regressing players, even if they’re Steelers legends. Heading into the 2015 season, the Steelers gave Legendary Safety Troy Polamalu two choices as to what he could do going forward: Retire or be cut. As we know, Polamalu ultimately decided that he didn’t want to play for anyone else, and decided to retire as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If Ben’s play continues to be subpar, we may unfortunately see the Steelers do the same thing with him. Roethlisberger still has one more year left on his contract, and he has recently voiced his desire to come back for next season. However, if the Steelers feel like it is in their best interest to move on from their legendary QB, then they will. This upcoming QB class in the NFL draft is a very good one. It includes a total of six (!) quarterbacks that could possibly go in the first round. If Ben’s struggles continue into the playoffs and Pittsburgh is a first round exit, they will have a pick in the early 20’s in the 2021 draft, and it wouldn’t take a huge haul to trade into the nine or ten spot to possibly take a QB like BYU’s Zach WIlson or NDSU’s Trey Lance.
It will truly be the end of an era in Pittsburgh the day Ben Roethlisberger decides to call it a career. There will be many emotional Steelers fans (including myself) who will forever miss Ben being the signal caller that they watch on Sundays. Nobody knows for sure when that day will be that Ben decides to end his playing career, but Steelers fans everywhere should at least be prepared for that day to be soon, maybe even sooner than we thought.