The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a proud franchise, steeped in winning tradition and boasting a beneficial culture that has helped produce an above-.500 record year in and year out.
That mentality manifests in so many ways, ranging from the decades-long continuity at head coach to the six Super Bowl titles to the usual level of discipline on the gridiron.
But Ben Roethlisberger is growing worried about the perceived lack of leadership and the potential death of the traditional “Steelers Way.”
Ben Roethlisberger Takes Shots at Steelers’ Current Status
Roethlisberger spent 18 seasons as the quarterback in Pittsburgh, establishing himself as a true franchise legend with his right arm and toughness under center. His word typically carries weight, which makes his recent messaging sting that much more for Steelers supporters.
“Maybe the tradition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is done,” he said on his “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger” podcast. “Who is grabbing someone by the face mask and saying, ‘That’s not what we do.’ Is that happening? Yes, you have guys on defense doing it, but you need guys on both sides of the ball doing it. You need someone to stand up in that room, on offense, and be like, ‘Hey, this isn’t what it means to wear the Black and Gold.’
“This isn’t what has been handed down from those teams of the ’70s. The Steel Curtain, the four Super Bowls, the Nolls, the Bradshaws, the Blounts. All those people, it’s unbelievable.”
Though the Steelers currently hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC standings with a 7-6 record, they’ve been trending in the wrong direction.
Kenny Pickett remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Mitch Trubisky is entrenched as the current leading option at quarterback. The team made ignominious history by dropping consecutive home games to teams that entered the fray at 2-10. Job-status speculation is beginning to swirl around head coach Mike Tomlin.
Some of those issues are connected, too.
Roethlisberger drew the throughlines rather clearly in the wake of the embarrassing 21-18 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots.
“You can’t afford in the second half of games to burn silly timeouts and to not have them late in the game. To me, that’s bad coaching,” he stated on the same podcast episode. “… There’s some feel you have to have in those situations because timeouts can be so valuable, as we saw in this game. If we have one more timeout there, we get a completion, we can work the middle of the field and all you got to do is give [Chris Boswell] a 60-yard chance. Give him a chance and he’ll tie the game. I like my chances in overtime because they scored all their points early and the momentum had shifted.”
Current Players Refute Ben Roethlisberger’s Messaging
Though it’s hard to find fault in Roethlisberger’s messaging about specific coaching decisions, multiple Pittsburgh players seemed to take (controlled) umbrage with the overall messaging from the retired quarterback.
— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) December 13, 2023
“Ben can have his opinion,” running back Najee Harris, who shared the locker room with Roethlisberger during the signal-caller’s final season, said. “I’m not trying to sit here and say if he’s right or wrong. I don’t know how to answer that. Ben is a Hall of Famer. Ben’s obviously been here, he’s won a Super Bowl, and he knows what the standard is as someone credible.
“I got here his last year, so I can’t really say I know what the Steeler Way is. But he’s been here with Troy [Polamalu], been here with Jerome [Bettis]. He knows that. So, someone on the outside sees that, he’s been on this field, so maybe you can guess and say he’s right. But I don’t know.”
. @CamHeyward replies to former QB Ben Roethlisberger saying "Maybe the tradition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is done…"
+ How the team is prepping for Week 15 in Indianapolis pic.twitter.com/1lyDKQIhE6
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) December 14, 2023
“Ben has an opinion, and he’s entitled to that. But I don’t agree,” defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, a six-time Pro Bowler who has spent his entire 13-year career with the Steelers, said on Good Morning Football.
“We lost these last two games, and it’s been rough. But the Steelers Way is about grinding it out, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on. So, there is plenty to be done about it, and the tradition starts by winning games, having good defense, scoring points.”
Winning is the ultimate panacea in sports, and the Steelers could quickly reverse the overall sentiment by emerging victoriously from upcoming contests against the Indianapolis Colts on December 16, the Jake Browning-led Cincinnati Bengals on December 23, the Seattle Seahawks on the final day of 2023 and the Baltimore Ravens in the January 7 regular-season finale.
After all, the Steelers Way has featured playoff appearances in 12 of the 19 completed seasons since Roethlisberger first entered the league, and the Tomlin era has produced exactly zero records below .500.
Both of those goals are still within reach.