Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers figured out a way to make it work financially, but can they make it work on the field? Conor and Gary take a look at how Pittsburgh got to this point, and the reasons to be optimistic—or pessimistic—as to whether it can work out for the Steelers in 2021, as they try to squeeze out another season of Super Bowl contention with an elite defense.
We also take a look at the sad QB situation in Chicago, where the Bears don't have the ammo to do much of anything in the trade market. With Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy entering a must-win season, what‘s the solution going to be?
Plus, the shrinking middle class in the NFL, the addition of J.J. Watt with the Cardinals, Conor absolutely berates Gary regarding Sports Illustrated’s upcoming Top 200 Free Agents list, and all the Baltimore Orioles talk you could possibly want from your favorite NFL podcast.
Gary Gramling: And we’re starting it off with Ben Roethlisberger. And look, this was sort of an inevitability. As long as he was coming back, it seemed like it was going to be Pittsburgh or nothing. And quite frankly, Conor, the Steelers don’t have a whole lot of options here at quarterback if it’s not Ben Roethlisberger.
Conor Orr: Yeah, it made me rethink a little bit the Packers' decision. And I think the Packers are in a different spot because they have a generational talent like Aaron Rodgers, who’s still a relatively healthy guy, whereas Ben Roethlisberger has struggled with injuries. I mean, he even said up until recently he didn’t really retool his diet or do any of the things that all these other quarterbacks are doing to help their longevity. And so, you know, if you’re Kevin Colbert, that’s the kind of guy who should have done the Jordan Love thing and had a first-round pick ready to stand by and come in when something like this went terribly wrong.
But they’re just making the same mistake that the Giants made with Eli Manning, which is trying to ride this thing until the wheels come off. And I don’t believe that they’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender based on the way that he played last year. Now, if that was just a year of getting over injuries and he has one more healthy year left in the tank, I think that changes things. But is there anything that you saw last year that leads you to believe that this is a guy who can push a team to a Super Bowl even if they are able to keep that generational defense together?
Gramling: I know, and that’s kind of what it is to me. We look at some of these teams, I think the 2018 Bears, who I would have put right there with like the 2015 Broncos as far as sort of the last decade of great, great carry-you-to-a-championship type of defenses. It is tough to keep that window open with these super-elite "stand on your head" defenses. If you look at what happened with the Bears since 2018, they have pretty much the same personnel there. Vic Fangio is gone. Chuck Pagano is in.
I didn’t think there was a huge drop-off with Pagano as far as down-to-down play. I think the drop-off came from the fact that they went from 35 takeaways to 18 a year, and there is some luck baked into takeaway stuff. And you have a Steelers defense that has had a lot of takeaways and gotten a lot of sacks and they are built for that. Teams that do create pressure do tend to take the ball away, but to take it away, that rate where you’re going to lead the league, where you can get two a week, it’s just not something you can really count on.
Orr: Yeah, they’re not a 13–3 team again next year. Maybe they are a 10-win team, but what does that look like in the AFC North when maybe Cleveland wins 10 games? What if Baltimore comes back? And Baltimore was almost on the down curve of that luck factor that we were kind of talking about last year. And what if that flips again and the ball starts bouncing their way again? So I just think it’s a mistake.