Ben Roethlisberger: Leaders have to call out teammates

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger will continue to publicly critique teammates when necessary.

Citing his role as a team captain, the Steelers quarterback did not back down from pointed comments on his weekly radio show following Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

"Being around for a long time, being with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate guys in different ways," Roethlisberger said. "That's part of being a leader and a captain -- just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side, sometimes you have to be honest with them. And so, I think I've earned the right to be able to do that, as long as I've been here. And I'll be just as critical on myself in front of you guys as well."

Among Roethlisberger's criticisms on Tuesday's appearance with 93.7 the Fan Pittsburgh:

Antonio Brown failed to run a "flat" route over the middle on the goal-line interception in the final minutes. Defensive tackle Shelby Harris intercepted the pass, and cornerback Chris Harris was directly behind Harris after undercutting the route.

JuJu Smith-Schuster should have gotten the ball on every play at the goal line. The interception happened on third down, and Roethlisberger attempted a fade pass to Smith-Schuster on first down, followed by a stuffed James Conner run.

• Rookie James Washington cost the Steelers a third-quarter score by diving for a deep ball that he dropped. "James needs to run through that and that's a touchdown," Roethlisberger said. The Steelers punted a few plays later.

These were the first such locker-room critiques of the season by Roethlisberger, who completed 41-of-56 passes for 462 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions Sunday. In the previous 11 weeks, he had taken most of the blame for losses or bad plays.

Asked about how players perceive his comments, Roethlisberger said, "You'll have to ask them."

"I would hope they would understand that as a quarterback and a captain that I have the right to do those things," Roethlisberger said. "I don't feel I abuse that situation. I don't think there's an issue, but you'll have to ask them."

Several teammates said after Wednesday's practice they aren't turned off by Roethlisberger's stance. Washington seemed motivated by it, saying he'd attack the adversity from his rocky rookie year.

Center Maurkice Pouncey defended it.

"He's a 15- year vet. He's a Hall of Famer," Pouncey said. "What makes it where he can't say something but the guys on TV can say something? I'm confused."

Tight end Jesse James said Roethlisberger approaches each playmaker differently, and NFL players expect criticism because "we're all under the microscope.

"He's not going to put something on your plate that you can't handle," James said. "You just have to respond the right way."

With Roethlisberger open about motivating players with honesty, perhaps there's motivation in his non-commitment to Brown as his No. 1 receiver.

Despite Brown's 11 touchdowns on the season and his NFL-record five consecutive years with at least 100 catches, Smith-Schuster leads the team with 77 catches for 1,055 yards. Brown has 71 catches for 874 yards. Asked if Smith-Schuster and Brown have become co-No. 1s, Roethlisberger said he prefers to spread the wealth.

"It feels like we have a bunch of No.1 receivers," said Roethlisberger, who gave a similar answer when asked whether Brown is his top option. "I'd put James Conner in there, Vance McDonald, (Ryan) Switz, Ju, AB. I'd put a lot of us No. 1."

Roethlisberger is second in the NFL with 3,664 passing yards but tied for second with 12 interceptions. Despite the high-turnover title, Roethlisberger said he'll continue to take chances and "sling it." His 447 passing attempts leads the league by 25.