Former Patriots Star Julian Edelman Details the Reason Why the Steelers Aren’t a Tough Football Team: ‘They’re Not Built for it Yet’

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a storied history, one built on their championship pedigree. Mike Tomlin’s squad hasn’t looked like a Super Bowl-caliber team so far in 2021. Former New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman recently listed the NFL’s toughest football teams. However, he didn’t include the Steelers.

The two-time Super Bowl champion doesn’t think Pittsburgh is the same team this time around.

Julian Edelman says the Steelers aren’t a tough football team in 2021

Patriots WR Julian Edelman in action; Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on the sideline
Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots reacts against the San Francisco 49ers | Kathryn Riley/Getty Images; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks on during game against the Seattle Seahawks | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Julian Edelman has been an integral part of two championship teams with the New England Patriots, so he knows a thing or two about winning. Mike Tomlin does, too, but Edelman says something is different in 2021.

The former wide receiver recently appeared on the Pardon My Take podcast. The hosts asked Edelman who he thinks are the toughest teams in the NFL.

Edelman listed the Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and Tennessee Titans as the league’s three toughest teams.

The seventh-round pick elaborated on what actually defines a tough football team. “A tough football team can run the ball, can stop the run, and can cover kicks,” he said. “What three teams do that the best? Baltimore, the Patriots, Tennessee.”

Edelman added that he learned that definition from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He also addressed a notable omission from his list, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The Steelers want to be tough,” he said. “Their defense is tough. They have a tough coach. I like Tomlin, he’s a tough guy. But they’re not utilizing that run. They’re not built for it yet.”

Pittsburgh has always been known for its toughness, but Julian Edelman’s assessment isn’t far off.

The Steelers’ identity has always been the same

The city of Pittsburgh is known as a blue-collar town. The Steelers have long taken on the identity of the area where they play.

The Steelers have developed a consistent identity over the years. They’re well-known for having a tough and rugged playing style. They establish the run game and play physical defense.

Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis spent 10 of his 13 NFL seasons in Pittsburgh. He became the focal point of a dominant Steelers running game.

Affectionately nicknamed “The Bus,” Bettis stood 5-foot-11 and 252 pounds. The 1993 No. 10 overall pick utilized a bruising running style to punish his opponents. The run-first mentality has been the identity for some time now.

On the other side of the football, the Steelers pride themselves on imposing their will on opposing offenses. Players like Joey Porter, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu played smash-mouth football every time they stepped on the field.

Running the ball and playing tough defense is a tried and true recipe for winning football games, and the Steelers mastered it. However, to turn things around in 2021, Mike Tomlin’s squad must re-establish its identity, as Julian Edelman suggested.

Pittsburgh’s running game is improving thanks to Najee Harris


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The Pittsburgh Steelers hit the jackpot when they landed Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, it was tough sledding early on in the 2021 season.

Pittsburgh entered the season with an offensive line much different than the unit that helped earn a playoff berth in 2020.

Center Maurkice Pouncey was the anchor in the middle of the Steelers’ offense for 10 seasons. He announced his retirement at the end of the 2020 season. With new faces in new places, the makeshift offensive line struggled mightily to begin the season.

Poor play up front limited Najee Harris’ production through the first several games. The Alabama product failed to reach the 50-yard mark in the Steelers’ first three games. His first 100-yard rushing effort came in the Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

Harris has rushed for 80 yards or more in four of Pittsburgh’s last five games. The Steelers have done a solid job getting the rookie involved in the passing game. However, to be competitive, they need to run the ball effectively and set the tone.

Perhaps Julian Edelman will consider them tough again if the Steelers can get back to playing smash-mouth football.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference