As a proud Pittsburgh Steelers fan for the past 12 years, the past year and some change have been brutal. Gone are the days of the “killer B’s” as they were called. Gone are the dominating defensive performances of the past. Gone is the feeling of no matter how mediocre the team plays the division was a lock. After the departure of star wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell after a year-long holdout the last of the “killer B’s” franchise quarterback and Steeler living legend Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury against the Seattle Seahawks. With division rivals Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens closing the gap it begs the question….Is this the end of an era? The answer is more complicated then you think.
1. Is this really the end for Big Ben?
It’s hard to imagine Rothlisberger going out like this but at the same time, there’s a chance it is. If Mason Rudolph proves that he is the future and does what Rothlisberger himself did 15 years ago after starter Tommy Maddox went down with an injury it’d be hard to religate him back to the bench. At the same time, I can’t see the Steelers, a fiercely loyal franchise, releasing him. Given the fact that he believes he still has something left in the tank how this plays out will be interesting.
2. The curious case of Mike Tomlin
Mike Tomlin has an impressive resume. Super Bowl champion. Multiple division titles. Numerous pro bowlers. All the while never truly winning over the segment of die-hard Bill Cowher fans who believe Tomlin won with his talent. While this is not entirely true as the Steelers have had deep playoff runs since the past two seasons have not helped his case. The lackluster defense. The draft misses in the secondary and free-agent focus on offense. The Brown lockerroom incident where he recorded Tomlin’s post-game speech. The upset playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. His relationship with much-maligned general manager Kevin Colbert. As big of a Tomlin fan as I am even I’ve had to start questioning if it’s time for a change at the top. He is the rare case of a coach with a winning record who despite success still hasn’t fully won over the fanbase all the while having a case for and against a firing.
3. Kevin Colbert
Colbert and Tomlin are tied at the hip as far as fans are concerned so if one is on the hook both are. Colbert took over in 2010 after spending the previous 10 years as the Director of Football Operations and was credited for helping Cowher and Co. assembling two Super Bowl-winning teams. However recently the teams he’s assembled have fallen short of expectations. Pair that with his thrifty spending when it comes to keeping top players not named Rothlisberger and high draft misses such as corner Artie Burns and Jarvis Jones and a penchant of favoring offense over defense a huge turnoff for a fanbase used to the Steel Curtin. To his credit, the 2018 draft that produced Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington could be the future of the franchise and the past three drafts overall have been solid. How he handles the inhouse shifts will be something worth keeping an eye on.
4. Mason Rudolph
Arguably the man with the most eyes on him Rudolph has a pressure-filled golden opportunity in front of him. After finally beating out Josh Dobbs for the backup job leading to Dobbs trade to the Jaguars he has the monumental task of taking over for not only one of the best quarterbacks in the league but for a team who despite an 0-2 record still has playoff goals. If the gunslinger from Oklahoma State is as good as advertised the season is not lost and the franchise is in good hands. How he does is anybody’s guess but judging by his second-half performance against the Seahawks it looks promising. The burning question though can he keep it up?