How differently would the 2019 season have gone had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remained healthy? That is the question that the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to ask themselves. I would say ‘in the locker room’, but of course, they are barred from entering the locker room indefinitely for reasons it would be seemingly impossible for you to be ignorant of if you have the technology to be reading this.
Pittsburgh still mustered up a record of 8-8, and were even 8-5 with three games to go, but it’s fair to say that the poor quality of play at the quarterback position, primarily through Devlin Hodges, torpedoed their hopes of returning to the postseason. They scored just 30 points combined in their final three games, with 10 in each, with Hodges accounting for two (one via pass, one as the quarterback of the drive on a rushing score).
That wasn’t the only bit of adversity the Steelers had to endure during the season, but it was certainly the most significant. Nevertheless, it was clear to those in the building who was responsible for keeping the team afloat for as well and as long as they were able to: head coach Mike Tomlin. Here’s what Vance McDonald had to say about his importance last year.
Whenever you’re back in those positions, to be able to handle it the way we handled it, I think, starting from the top down with Mr. Rooney and Coach Tomlin, his poise and his consistency when he enters this building is so dynamic for guys, because the NFL, the world, it’s so much to handle on our plates. But to be able to come in and identify that, and that level of consistency, it is so good for us, and dynamic for us, because it gives us the ammunition to be able to handle all that stuff.
Tomlin has long been regarded as a players’ coach. That doesn’t guarantee that every player has a pleasant experience playing for him, at least for the full length of their tenure there. Ask LeGarrette Blount or Morgan Burnett, two players who were cut or asked for their release within a year of their signing as a free agent. Ask James Harrison, who practiced insubordination to try to force his release during his final season after he grew dissatisfied with his lack of playing time.
For those who buy in to the way in which Tomlin does business, though—and the Steelers attempt to carefully curate a locker room that is receptive to his message, which I think the singings of Derek Watt and Stefen Wisnieski reflect—there might not be a better leader of men in the sport today.