As a whole, most major media analysts believe 2021 will be a down season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and especially quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is now in his 18th NFL season. On Tuesday, former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who is doing media sessions ahead of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in less than a month from now, was asked about his outlook for Roethlisberger in 2021 and especially on the heels of many expecting the veteran quarterback to have a down season.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s just thriving right now on the fact that everyone thinks that he’s done, the Steelers are done,” Cowher said of Roethlisberger. “I used to always say to people, I said, ‘The greatest thing in sports is to do something nobody thinks you can do. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments.’ And I think right now, Ben is just thriving on that, and he can’t wait to get out there and [is] probably chomping at the bit that to prove [his doubters wrong]. I think I would be very surprised if he didn’t have a great year this year.”
Cowher knows Roethlisberger pretty well as he was the Steelers head coach in 2004 when the team drafted the quarterback in the first round out of Miami, OH. Roethlisberger obviously won his first of two Super Bowls in 2005 when Cowher was still the Steelers head coach. Because of all of the history the two of had together, it’s not surprising that Cowher believes that Roethlisberger still has enough left in the tank to compete at a high enough level in 2021.
So, why are so many people down on Roethlisberger ahead of the 2021 season? It’s likely mostly due to the quarterback’s age for starters and how he played in the team’s final four regular season games of 2020. It’s also likely due to the fact that Roethlisberger will behind a rebuilt and very unproven offensive line in 2021 as well.
What has the worst part of the anti-Roethlisberger rhetoric looked like this offseason? Well, former NFL front office executive Mike Tannenbaum said last week on ESPN that he thinks Roethlisberger will be benched by the middle of the 2021 season.
“He’s going to be bad,” Tannenbaum said Thursday of Roethlisberger. “And I expect him to be benched by the middle of the season and here’s why. When I was with the Jets and the Dolphins, Ben Roethlisberger was a big, physical, could get the ball down the field quarterback. And stats don’t always paint a picture, but in 2015, Ben Roethlisberger was third in the NFL in yards per pass attempt, meaning he got the ball down the field. Last year at 38 years old, he was 31st. He just checked the ball down. Now, they had guys that can make plays once they had the ball in their hand, the Smith Schusters of the world, but at 39, losing the quarterback of your offensive line in Maurkice Pouncey, he’s going to get rid of the ball faster. That’s going to compress the field. He is going to make sure that he is protecting himself and getting rid of the ball and when that happens, it’s really hard to score points in this league because now you have 11 defensive players closer to the line scrimmage.
“So, he’s had a great career, it’s over. They’re paying Ben Roethlisberger for what he used to do, not what he’s going to do in the future. And while those three other quarterbacks in the AFC North are getting better, he’s getting older and that’s a big problem for the Steelers long-term.”
Based on what he said on Tuesday, Cowher obviously doesn’t come close to sharing Tannenbaum’s sentiments.
“And so, like I said, it’s a tough division,” Cowher said of the AFC North. “He’s [Roethlisberger’s] a Hall of Fame player. First ballot, no question about it. He’s won two Super Bowls and has been to three, but yet he continues to play the game with a great passion. He’s a great competitor and I think you’ll see that this year.”
If Roethlisberger can somehow guide the Steelers to a deep playoff run in 2021, which is something most would likely bet against happening, it might just result in the veteran quarterback returning for the 2022 season. That’s not unthinkable right now and even with Roethlisberger’s future contract years past 2021 all set to void five days after the Super Bowl is played in February.