The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger after six quarters in 2019, but still managed to go 8-8 despite below-average (at best) quarterback play from the Mason Rudolph-Devlin Hodges tandem. After video surfaced yesterday of a freshly-shaven Roethlisberger throwing passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and the like, buzz for their upcoming season was only heightened. If the Steelers managed to stay competitive without Roethlisberger, it only goes to figure they could be serious playoff contenders with the significant upgrade he'd bring at quarterback. Right?
Wrong! Or at least according to Colin Cowherd, who said on Tuesday he views the Steelers as a 7-9 squad next season and the days of Pittsburgh being a great organization have come and gone.
Cowherd's reasoning is that, in order to be a great organization and to enjoy success in general, a team must have an "A" grade for their owner, quarterback, and coach. Cowherd doesn't see the Tomlinson-Roethlisberger duo as an "A"-grade pairing anymore, and predicts Pittsburgh will finish third in the division.
How Cowherd can criticize Tomlin after the 2019 he turned in is beyond me. There are probably only three coaches in the NFL who could have mustered up an 8-8 season after the rash of injuries Pittsburgh suffered. Not only did Roethlisberger miss the whole season, James Conner and Smith-Schuster missed most of the second half of the season. Tomlin helped turn the defense into one of the league's more fearsome units and somehow engineered enough points offensively to win a few games without his starting QB, RB, or WR1.
Cowherd's points about Big Ben are valid. Roethlisberger has always been turnover-prone and the cliff will have to come sooner rather than later for the 38-year-old. But it's almost impossible to envision a reality where whatever Roethlisberger can put out there is worse than what the Steelers got last year. After finishing third in the division last year, Pittsburgh will enjoy an easier schedule than 2019 and its defense should feast on the young quarterbacks it will be facing in the NFC East this year. Taking all of that into account and still believing the Steelers will finish with a worse record than last season is ... well, it's something.
The Steelers will be hard-pressed to take the division title away from Baltimore, even if the latter isn't likely to go 14-2 again. But injury luck should sway their way this season, they have an easier schedule, and they won't be putting Rudolph or Hodges under center. How much they'll improve will depend on what version of Roethlisberger trots onto the field come September, but they will improve.
Cowherd could end up right in his prediction if that injury luck does go sideways once more, but it won't be because Tomlin is a bad coach, that's for sure.