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Mark Madden: Leadership is overrated, and maybe Steelers are, too

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 6:29 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks onto the field before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks onto the field before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

Ben Roethlisberger said James Washington should have caught the ball he dropped, and Antonio Brown should have “come flat” running his route on the Steelers’ last offensive play in the loss at Denver. thus denying Broncos cornerback Chris Harris a chance to cut in front of him.

Roethlisberger didn’t personally insult Washington or Brown. He didn’t say their mothers wear army boots.

Roethlisberger’s analysis was also absolutely correct, though it doesn’t take into account throwing an interception to a defensive lineman, something Brown’s incorrect route-running had zero to do with. Roethlisberger should have put heat on himself for that.

So, what’s the big deal?

Roethlisberger has been vilified near and far (mostly far) for throwing teammates under the bus. His leadership has been questioned.

But the Steelers have prospered through a plethora of chaos for the best part of this decade. Much of that arrived with the aforementioned Mr. Brown and with Le’Veon Bell, the now-absent half of the Toxic Twins partnership.

Consider last year: Ryan Shazier got paralyzed. James Harrison turned traitor and went to New England. Alejandro Villanueva made his teammates go heel by putting his hand over his heart (on camera, of course) while they stood in the tunnel like dopes before the game at Chicago. Brown was a constant barrage of noise. Bell skipped training camp (although he does that all the time).

Some of those problems were organic, most not. But the Steelers still went 13-3. True, they lost their first playoff game. (They do that all the time.)

Perhaps the Steelers are immune to distraction. They certainly get enough practice dealing with it.

As for Roethlisberger’s leadership, he’s right: He has been a Steeler 15 years, and that allows to him to choose his bedside manner.

Perhaps Roethlisberger has tried leading privately, and it hasn’t worked with certain individuals. That wouldn’t be hard to believe. The Steelers locker room doesn’t lack leaders. It lacks followers. So Roethlisberger went public.

Who cares what Washington thinks? He’s only a rookie, has been a disappointment to date and can’t do much worse.

As for Brown, does anybody really believe he will do or think anything different because of anything anybody says, good or bad? That includes Roethlisberger, other teammates, the coaches, everybody. (Except Pepsi and Pizza Hut.) Brown has a self-taught degree in narcissism. At any rate, Brown spoke Friday and wasn’t upset. In fact, he spoke glowingly of Roethlisberger. (Good babyface move.)

So, what’s the big deal?

Leadership, like team chemistry, is mostly a myth. Those qualities are assigned after the fact when teams succeed by way of romanticizing the situation.

A good team is never said to succeed despite no leadership and poor team chemistry. Vice-versa for bad teams. Winning and losing determine.

Indulge, please, my oft-cited example: The NHL’s leadership award is named after Mark Messier. Hockey’s greatest captain ever, it’s perceived. Messier led Edmonton to a Stanley Cup in 1990 after Wayne Gretzky had left and, in ‘94, the New York Rangers to their first Cup in 54 years.

But Messier’s teams didn’t make the playoffs in any of his last seven seasons.

Did Messier forget how to lead? Or did his teams merely win when they were good, and lose when they were bad? (Yes.)

Talent and execution determine more than anything.

Coaching and structure are next on that list.

Leadership and chemistry are somewhere below. Not inconsequential, but not as important as we pretend.

Full disclosure: I’m not above exploiting the myth. Three hours on the radio is a long time.

A bigger issue: Perhaps the Steelers aren’t that good.

Kansas City drilled them, and would again. New England isn’t vintage, but is still New England. The Steelers won six in a row, but Houston has won eight straight and has an easy schedule left.

Brown isn’t what he was. JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t what Brown was. Bell isn’t there anymore. The Steelers defense has zero playmakers, as evidenced by the paucity of takeaways. (T.J. Watt has that potential. Cam Heyward is “steady Eddie,” as is Stephon Tuitt when he’s available.)

Pittsburgh can be so hopeful about the Steelers.

But Pittsburgh often doesn’t see what the Steelers are.

What they are, probably, is 10-5-1. AFC North champions. (Cue more T-shirts.) No. 4 seed in the AFC tournament. One and done in the playoffs, or maybe 1-1.

It will have nothing to do with what Roethlisberger says. But he has the best chance to better those realistic expectations via what he does.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Mark Madden hosts

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