Don’t Bail On Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger – By Greg Stephens
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|As week three wraps up in the 2006 NFL season, there is quite a buzz in the air about many different quarterback situations. Dennis Green of the Cardinals came within an eyelash of naming rookie quarterback Matt Leinhart starter, despite him missing most of preseason and not taking a snap yet in the new year. After game one of the season, Cowboy fans with itchy trigger fingers were calling for Tony Romo to replace Drew Bledsoe. Jake Plummer can’t keep his head in the game, seemingly because he keeps looking over his shoulder for the Broncos’ other Jake, Jake Cutler. And let’s not even talk about the Titans and Vince Young.
In Pittsburgh, the talk is different. Pittsburgh’s perennial hero for the past two seasons, Big Ben, has now come under fire from the Steeler faithful because he has opened 2006 with two horrendous games. To be sure, zero touchdowns, five picks, and a passer rating of 34.3 after two games is horrendous, but let’s not be so quick to bury the big guy and wonder what is wrong with Roethlisberger.
Big Ben is a quarterbacking anomaly. He has done what quarterbacks don’t do — he has succeeded immediately upon entering the NFL. That isn’t supposed to happen. He is the reason fans are clamoring for teams to start these rookie quarterbacks that just can’t be ready to play.
Traditional football philosophy states a team drafts a quarterback, and slowly develops him into the role. That is what Carson Palmer did for the Bengals. Cincinnati fans couldn’t understand drafting yet another first round quarterback, and paying him handsomely, for sitting out the entire 2003 season. San Diego’s Philip Rivers held a clipboard for two seasons after being traded in the number one pick fiasco that was Eli Manning. His first two seasons saw him touch the ball in two games each season. Ask Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers as well.
This is not to say that every great quarterback in NFL history has waited, studied, and learned before assuming the top role. Many have had to come in and take the reigns from the start. Those examples, however, prove, with their numbers, the importance of patience.
Troy Aikman is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, and perhaps the best of the nineties. Dallas drafted him number one overall in the 1989 draft. He only played eleven games that season, not all sixteen — not even twelve or thirteen. His numbers for that season? Nine touchdowns, eighteen interceptions, and a passer rating of a measly 55.7. Those numbers certainly didn’t scream future hall-of-famer.
Joe Montana was drafted in 1979 in the third round by the terrible San Francisco 49ers. He played in all sixteen games, but in a very limited role. He only attempted twenty-three passes. He completed thirteen, had one touchdown, and a respectable, but misleading, 81.1 rating. His role in 1980 was increased considerably, with good results, but it was his break-out season of 1981, two seasons into his career, that established him as a champion, and a legitimate superstar quarterback.
John Elway, after spurning the Baltimore Colts in 1983, became a top superstar, and probably a top five all-time quarterback, for the Denver Broncos. How well did he do his first season in Denver? He passed for seven touchdowns, fourteen interceptions, and a passer rating of 54.9, while only playing in eleven games for the Broncos.
Dan Marino had an explosive rookie season in Miami, passing for twenty touchdowns, with only six interceptions and a 96 rating — but he only played eleven games that season as well. Even he didn’t get thrown into the deep end of the pool from the beginning of his career.
That brings us full-circle to Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was drafted in 2004 — a mere two full seasons ago. In the third game of Ben’s rookie season, Tommy Maddox was injured. Ben took the reigns with no prior regular season snaps, and proceeded to have best rookie quarterback season of all time. He started the remaining thirteen games that year, and finished the season with seventeen touchdowns, eleven interceptions, and an astronomical rating of 98.1. He was undefeated in the regular season, and only lost one game in the playoffs — the AFC title game. He did all of this with no learning curve whatsoever.
Just dumb luck, many experts said. It was impossible for Ben to match that type of rookie season in his sophomore year. Not true, however, as he played in twelve games in 2005 due to injury, winning eleven of those games, passing for seventeen touchdowns, throwing only nine interceptions, and improving his passer rating to 98.6. As for the post-season? He managed to become the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.
Compare that to three of the best quarterbacks today — Manning, Brady, and Palmer. Palmer sat out his entire first season learning to play in the NFL, and Brady only played in one game his rookie season, so neither of those two are comparable. Manning started his career as the Colts’ starter, throwing a total of fifty-two touchdowns, forty-three interceptions, and registering passer ratings of 71.2, and 90.7 respectively. Good numbers — no rings.
What all Steelers’ fans need to remember is that Ben is like the child actor that grows up on television, and then gets arrested when he or she is nineteen. The child actor never had the opportunity to make his or her mistakes, learn, and grow. For the past two seasons, Ben hasn’t had the opportunity to actually learn to be a pro quarterback. He has carried the weight of Pittsburgh exceptionally well for two full seasons — a mighty weight at that — and he never got the chance to make mistakes.
This season, he has played in two games and made mistakes. The true test comes in how he handles those mistakes, and how he learns from them. Is his career over because he had two terrible games? No. It would be a mistake to overstate the situation in those terms. Can he brush those games aside as if they never happened, because he was ‘rusty’? No. It would be an equal mistake to understate the situation thusly. He needs to be patient. The Steelers team and organization needs to be patient. Most of all, the fans need to be patient, and not bail on Big Ben.