Ben Roethlisberger hinted at retirement Tuesday, but many NFL analysts don’t think Big Ben is serious.
“I don’t buy it,” ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Come on, I think he’ll play. He likes a little bit of attention, and you know what? We all think about it at that age, but gosh, he’s still playing at such an incredibly high level and they’ve got an outstanding team. Come on, now. I think we all, after a disappointing loss where we don’t perform our best, we all think about and contemplate retirement. And then you get away from it for a few weeks and you start getting that itch and you’re like, ‘Man, we got a chance. We got a really good team.’ I would be shocked – I’d be shocked – if he walked away from the game.”
In fact, Schlereth believes there’s a better chance of Antonio Brown not playing for the Steelers in 2017 than of Big Ben retiring. Brown, 28, has been an unwelcome distraction with many of his antics this season.
“Behind the scenes, you hear things about that situation where it’s not always real comfortable over there,” Schlereth said. “If I was a gambling man, I’d bet more on Antonio Brown playing somewhere else next year than I would bet on Ben Roethlisberger retiring. He’s a guy that has great value, undeniable talent, but a guy that I think they’re a little bit tired of. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Antonio Brown playing somewhere else and putting him out as a trade bait and getting something great for him.”
As for the Steelers’ 36-17 blowout loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship, Schlereth understands why Mike Tomlin is getting criticized, but he’s not sure that it’s justified.
“When I played, we did what we did,” said Schlereth, a three-time Super Bowl champion. “When I played with the Redskins, we were a counter team. That’s what we ran. We’re going to line up and we’re gong to try to cram it down your throat and we’re going to believe that regardless of what you do, we’re better than you and we’re going to execute. In Denver, we were a zone-running team and we did it better than anybody else. We’ll do some things as window dressing, but we do what we do. I think that’s been Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but sometimes you look at it, that’s your personnel. If you haven’t drafted guys that can lock up in man and play that kind of coverage – that press man, disrupt routes and do all those things – then you’re in trouble. I just don’t think from a personnel standpoint that they have the ability to get out of what they do and feel comfortable doing that. That’s a personnel issue, to me, more than anything else.”
Take the NFC Championship, for example. The Falcons were shredding the Packers in zone, so Green Bay switched to man. Then Julio Jones took a short slant 73 yards to the house.
“It’s a personnel issue,” Schlereth said. “So if you want to change schemes to be able to defend Tom Brady, the you’re going to have to be better from a personnel standpoint in getting guys that are adept at playing those schemes.”
Looking ahead to Super Bowl LI, Schlereth expects a close game.
“I think I give them a good chance,” he said of the Falcons. “If you push me on it, I’ll take the Patriots just because I think they’re the most prepared team. I think they’re the smartest team in football year in and year out. But Atlanta offensively, it’s really been interesting. They got Alex Mack to play center. Alex Mack has solidified that inside 3 with (Andy) Levitre and (Chris) Chester. Guys that were average players have played much better. But when you’ve got a Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and Gabriel and you’ve got Freeman and Coleman in the backfield. The thing is, it’s a throwback to the 90s when you ran a lot of two-back formations, and yet, they’re able to explode out of those formations, get those guys wide and get favorable match-ups with their running backs on linebackers.”
Schlereth was in attendance when the Falcons beat the Broncos, 23-16, in Denver in Week 5.
“They eviscerated the Broncos defense, who’s been really the best defense in football the last couple of years,” he said. “They made them look silly with linebackers trying to cover those guys, so they’re an incredibly tough matchup. So I certainly give them a chance, but here’s what I know about playing against a Bill Belichick-coached team. What you practice for for two weeks is not what you’re going to see Super Bowl Sunday. So you damn well better have a coaching staff that can sit down on the sideline and adjust, and you better have smart players that understand those adjustments and can roll with the punches midstream on the sideline – because they always change everything up.”
For example, the Patriots played smash-mouth football in their regular-season win over Pittsburgh but went up-tempo and no-huddle in the AFC Championship. The result was Tom Brady throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
“You never know what you’re going to get from them,” Schlereth said. “That’s why they are so hard to play against week in and week out.”