Ex-Pittsburgh CB Bryant McFadden: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Poised To Surprise Skeptics

Bryant McFadden played cornerback in the NFL for seven seasons, six for the Pittsburgh Steelers and one for the Arizona Cardinals. The two-time Super Bowl champion currently hosts the ‘All Things Covered’ podcast with his cousin, Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson. As the NFL regular season approaches, Compare.bet spoke with McFadden about Steelers pessimism, Ben Roethlisberger, a Peterson bounceback, the Cardinals’ cornerback situation and his pick for best cornerback in the NFL.

You look at the Steelers’ win total this year of 8.5, and that’s a bit lower than usual. What do you think of the doubts about this team?

I think the doubt is mostly about how they finished the season last year. They were 11-0 and then had a losing skid for a few ballgames. Didn’t run the ball well. Big Ben’s numbers didn’t look as good as they did in the beginning of the season. So for Pittsburgh, it only seems like they had a six-game season based on the games they lost in the latter part of last year. That’s the only thing people remember.

Do you think that’s a little bit unfair? Should we take their whole body of work into consideration instead of focusing on that last part?

That’s how I judge or assess a team, the overall body of work. But people are going to think and feel how they feel. It is what it is. What people think you’re going to do this season has nothing to do with it. It’s the play on the field.

Are you optimistic about the Steelers overall?

I think they’re definitely a playoff team. Getting into the tournament is the most important thing, because if you don’t, you don’t have that shot at competing for a championship.

How much of the team’s success will be tied to Ben Roethlisberger and the way he plays?

Success in the National Football League, and football in general, is always tied to the quarterback. Clearly more than half, based on what the quarterback means. If you have a good quarterback, you’ve got a shot. If you don’t, that football field is 150 yards.

His play tailed off last season. What do you expect of him this year? He’s getting older but is he capable of putting together a good year?

I expect better numbers than what we saw last year. Over 30 touchdowns throwing, over 3,800 yards — for a guy who came off a season-ending elbow injury, that’s pretty good. I think that had a lot to do with the decline in production. He missed a full year. Your body is going to wear down not being in football shape, and his throwing arm didn’t seem to be as precise or as strong as it did in the beginning. For me, I think this is a huge year for him. He’s set up to have a huge year.

If he was 27 years old, people would have pinned the struggles on the injury, but he’s 39. Do you think it’s less about age and more about coming off the injury?

I think it’s the injury and age. But the thing about his injury is, from what I’ve gathered, is that it’s similar to a Tommy John injury with pitchers. Usually that second year coming back is when they are fully healthy. So I think this year should be better for Big Ben, being in football shape. And the ground-and-pound attack should be much better.

You mentioned Big Ben being in better football shape. Do you notice a difference from when you were around him earlier in his career to now? Was he relying on natural ability when he was younger and now he’s putting more work in?

Yeah, he definitely attacked the physical side in a different way. He looks different. He’s slimmed up. From what I’ve heard he has a new diet he implemented. When you get older, you have to change things up. Also, he’s heard the elevator music that’s surrounding him about, he’s declining and the team is declining. It’s definitely something that’s motivating him, in my opinion.

Do you think he plays beyond this year?

That’s a good question. I don’t think so, but I think a lot of that has to do with how well he plays this year and what happens this year.

Switching gears, let’s talk about Patrick Peterson. I read he’s down to 195 pounds. Did he talk to you about deciding to slim down and what he’s looking to get out of it?

He just wanted to feel better. When you’re playing against some of these outstanding wide receivers week in and week out, you want to make sure you can move around and feel comfortable doing so. Based on what I’ve gathered from him, this is the lightest he’s been since high school.

Looking at your own career, what kind of adjustments did you make at 28, 29, 30 years old?

Athletically, you want to do things a little differently than when you first got into the league. As a rookie, a second- or third-year player, you’re not really too concerned about the diet, because you’re just allowing your God-given ability to do what it’s been doing. When you get older, you’ve got to switch things up a little bit and try to find ways to be successful instead of doing what you’ve done earlier in your career.

Do you think Patrick is poised to have a bounce-back campaign?

There’s no question he’s motivated. He’s also heard the elevator music about his career, and it’s motivated him. He’s extremely excited about the opportunity to be with coach (Mike Zimmer). He’s respected him throughout his entire career, and because of that, he has newfound motivation in attacking this year, as a team and an individual.

From a pride standpoint, does it matter to him to be in that upper echelon?

No question. Throughout the majority of his career he’s always been in that conversation as one of the best corners in the game. Getting back to that level is somewhere he clearly wants to be. He wants to showcase that he is still a top-level player, even though he’s older.

It seems like you guys were ahead of the curve, as far as having a current player with a podcast. What’s it been like co-hosting ‘All Things Covered’ with Peterson?

It’s been great. Really fun. It’s creative and he’s been enjoying it. The chemistry is clearly there with our relationship already being intact. We’ve been fortunate to have really good guests come on and not have any filters. Our job is easy. It’s definitely been a pleasure so far.

You played for the Cardinals for a bit and Patrick was there a long time. They lost him in free agency and now Malcolm Butler is either retired or close to it. Are they in a tough spot without Patrick and, seemingly, Butler?

Yeah, that was unexpected. (Butler) was supposed to be the guy to play opposite Robert Alford. And Alford had been injured, so this is the first time the team can see what he can provide. So it puts more pressure on him to be that ultimate No. 1 guy. They have Byron Murphy, who I loved coming out of Washington, and he can play pretty good football. He’s more designated as the nickel guy. It was a concern for Arizona for quite some time, trying to find a guy that could play opposite Pat P. It was basically musical chairs at that other cornerback position, so hopefully they can find stability and structure so they don’t have to go through the same carousel of different bodies starting opposite of Robert Alford.

Last question. Do you think Jalen Ramsey is clearly the best cornerback in the NFL, or are there a few guys in that mix?

I think he’s the best. What makes him the best, in my opinion, is not just the coverage. It’s the energy, the physical nature he plays with, and tackling. He’s one of the best tackling corners in the game. I just love that old-school mentality he has and how he attacks the game. You’ve got guys like Jaire Alexander, Xavien Howard, Tre White, guys that can play top-level football, but I think the No.1  spot is clearly Jalen’s.

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