Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played the final game of his career on Jan. 16, losing 42-21 to the Kansas City Chiefs. While he put up a respectable statline of 215 yards, scored two touchdowns, and had no interceptions on a 66 per cent completion rate, Roethlisberger had a measly 4.8 yards per attempt, and his touchdowns only came after the Chiefs were already well in the lead. Just as it was throughout the season, Pittsburgh’s offence was lacklustre and outdated, relying on screen passes and high-end defensive talent to score points. In the end, Roethlisberger ranked just 31st out of the 32 starting quarterbacks this season.
It seems that as Roethlisberger retires, other NFL quarterbacks of old are contemplating their own fates. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, though playing well, are 44 and 37 years old respectively, and when they leave, the NFL will have few of the old guard left to connect it to the previous generation. Where will the NFL go from here?
Football fan Théo Chambon, U1 Arts, has noticed the modern NFL progressing toward a pass-heavy, athletic offensive scheme.
“The NFL is going through a phase where the level of [athleticism] in the league is much more homogenous than what it used to be,” Chambon said. “Since you know it’s harder to be above others in terms of athleticism and individual play, the teams are forced to rely more on, and develop, a more concrete and deep passing game.”
Chambon’s perception is not just a trick of the eye—the modern NFL is vastly different from the NFL of Roethlisberger’s prime. More points are scored, more passing touchdowns are completed, and young quarterbacks like Joe Burrow are expected to be agile and routinely make explosive plays.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers, however, have been lacking this modern style of play in recent years. Lindsey Kamienik, U0 Arts & Science and a Pittsburgh native, feels that the lack of a passing threat has been endemic for the struggling Steelers offence.
“My personal opinion and the majority of the consensus in Pittsburgh is that Ben played pretty badly this season, but that was expected with his age and attrition after 18 years with us,” Kamienik said. “I think we all knew back in 2019 after [his] shoulder injury that Ben was at the end of his time in the NFL.”
The Steelers’ offensive problems have also been exacerbated by Roethlisberger’s deteriorating mobility. Some fans, such as Chambon, note that this contrasts with the modern ideal of an agile quarterback.
“QBs like Lamar [Jackson], and [Michael] Vick in his time, have [shown] that a running and rushing QB is a possibility,” Chambon remarked. “[Another] great example of this is [Patrick] Mahomes. He is known for his crazy passing ability and vision but the guy can also rush when necessary.”
Nonetheless, Pittsburgh’s problems are not the reason why Steelers fans like Kamienik have felt discontent with recent NFL seasons. Among other things, many fans find that unfair overtime rules take away from the excitement of the game.
“I would say based on the way this season has gone, overtime rules need to be revised,” Kamienik said. “The team who wins the coin toss gets the ball first and that means if they score a [touchdown], it’s game over. Overall, I feel that the modern NFL has been on the decline over the last couple of years.”
The controversial overtime rules are especially prominent in light of last week’s Bills-Chiefs game, where the Bills lost the coin toss and were not allowed to respond after the Chiefs scored on the first overtime drive. Despite the questionable rules, the deep-ball focus of today’s league has garnered support from fans.
“I’m always more in awe when I see someone catch a 60-yard hail mary than a 10-yard pass,” Chambon remarked.
Though opinions diverge on the modern NFL’s increased reliance on passing and dubious rules, one thing is for certain: Roethlisberger’s final year has not been enough to discredit what he has accomplished, and the legacy of the era he represents will not disappear after his retirement.
“While it was [a] frustrating season for [Steelers fans], Ben is a Pittsburgh icon and is treated in that respect,” Kamienik said.