Intangibles Separate Ben Roethlisberger From Carson Palmer

[Editors Note:]  The Debate of whether Ben Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer are the better quarterback has been stirring for days due to Steeler_'s post that you can find here.  In that post SteelerBuddha wrote this epic response that warranted it's own front page highlight. Many thanks to him for this post that is so thorough as well as being a great read -DYM- (frank)

I think on paper Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer are very comparable quarterbacks, very close – but Football isn’t played on paper.  Football also (contrary to popular opinion these days) isn’t played in fantasy football leagues. It doesn’t matter how many points your starting QB get each week. It tells you absolutely zero about them as a football player.

Football is a team sport and there are too many confounding factors to truly know if one player is better than another/ This comparison is especially difficult when trying to compare a player on a bad team in comparison to a player on a good team.  We will never know how well Palmer would have done as QB of the Steelers nor how well Ben would have done as QB of Bengals. For all of our conjecture there is just now way to make that comparison.

Having said that, the best we can do is ask – what has a player done in the context of their team.  On that level I think you can read Carson Palmers story on two levels. An optimist can say that Palmer took a team that had not had a winning season in 14 years and took them to the playoffs in his second year, before suffering an injury that may have kept him from taking them further.


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A pessimist on the other hand would say that Palmer took over a team which had gone 8-8 with Jon Kitna in 2003 and only once lead them to a record better then 8-8. I tend to think the truth is somewhere in between. Palmer is better then Jon Kitna, on the other hand, for many reasons (team culture, injury, etc) Palmer inherited a mediocre team on the rise and never really took them beyond being mediocre. I know that might sound a bit harsh to Bengals fans, but I honestly have yet to see proof to the contrary.

In contrast Big Ben’s story is all about transforming a franchise. Granted Ben took over a solid franchise, but it was a franchise with some serious recent struggles. In the previous 6 years – prior to Ben the Steelers had 3 winning seasons and three losing seasons. Even in their winning seasons they had suffered heartbreaking losses in the playoffs. It is fair to say that many of those losses were at least partly a result of poor QB play during the big game.

In 2003 the year prior to Ben’s arrival, the Steelers were 6-10 under Tommy Maddox – a QB that had some fans in Pittsburgh excited due to his impressive passing stats.

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When Maddox went down with injury in the second game of the season – the Steelers had barely beaten a weak Raiders team and were down 20-0 to a decent Ravens team. With rookie Ben Roethlisberger at the helm they would win out the rest of their games – until being overwhelmed in the AFC championship game by a talented Patriots team that may or may not have been stealing their signals.

While the national media called Ben a game manager and laid the success of the team on Pittsburgh’s running game, there was no doubt amongst most (except the most dense) in Pittsburgh that Roethlisberger was responsible for the Steelers success. Sometimes it seemed that Ben single handedly willed the Steelers to victory in a close game. In his first year alone 5 or his 14 victories involved 4th quarter comebacks.

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To Steelers fans long accustomed to QB’s who managed a run first offense but fell apart when asked to do too much, it was clear that Ben was taking the team to another level. If there was any doubt that Ben was leading the team in a new direction it was eliminated during an improbable 4 game road trip in 2005. The national media which was every bit as obsessed with fantasy football as the common fan, looked at the at 2004 and 2005 season and came up with the following story line. The Steelers were a run first team with a bruising defense. Ben was a promising young QB, but he worked best as a game manager. The interesting thing is that it seems that the Steelers opponents bought this story as well.

In three consecutive road games Ben put up gaudy numbers and buried the opposition early. Neither the Bengals nor the Broncos ever stood a chance. The Colts shouldn’t have either, but a terrible call overturning a Poluamulu interception and an inexplicable goal line fumble by Jerome Bettis put Ben back on the stage.

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As Nick Harper raced towards the endzone and what would have undoubtedly been the single most heartbreaking loss in the history of the Steelers franchise, Big Ben the QB became Big Ben the football player and quite literally single handedly won the game.

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The Steelers would go on to win the Super Bowl with Ben playing one the worst games of his career. He threw two interceptions – one of them leading directly to Seahawks only TD. The biggest pass of the game was thrown by one of his receivers. Ben led his team to the biggest stage and then disappeared. The critics were back in full-force. In the mind of the public Ben was once again an decent QB on a good team.

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Never mind the fact that Ben was the youngest QB to ever win a superbowl. Never mind the fact that there was no way the Steelers would have gotten there without him. Never mind the fact that Ben’s mistakes came early in the game and that his team won. The Super Bowl shaped public perception of Ben – but it shaped it wrong.

To some people the 2006 season proved that Ben’s start was a fluke. To many Steelers fans it proved that not only was Ben great but that he was tough as hell. Two months after a life threatening accident and appendectomy, Ben played football.

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He struggled and the team struggled. The team would lose 6 of the first 7 games with Ben under center. That’s two more losses then Ben had in his first two seasons combined. While some saw this as a sign of Ben’s weakness – I think it was actually a sign of his value to the team. With Ben getting healthier the team went on to win 6 of the last 8.

The next year – with a new coach and new offensive coordinator Ben took his team to the playoffs again. Once there the Steelers were stunned by the Jaguars. Looking at the stat line it’s easy to blame the game on Ben. He threw for three interceptions in the first half. But the reality was so much more complex. The steelers had NO running game. Willie Parker was on the sidelines in a case. Najeh "Dookie" Davenport – managed a stunning 1.6 yards per touch.

Ben had no choice but to drop back and face a furious pass rush. He was sacked 6 times. He was hit many more. And yet he mounted one of the great 4th quarter comebacks of his career, leading his team to 19 points in the quarter. In the end it was some egregious interior holding and a slow footed back up safety that cost Ben his great comeback. One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Ben was one the field in place of Tyrone Carter. You just get the sense that he would not have allowed it.

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I won’t recap the 2008 season, except to say that Ben played suffered a tough shoulder injury in game one got sacked 46 times, got hit hundreds of times, and played the toughest schedule in the league.

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He suffered a brutal concussion in his last game….

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And through it all – of the 14 games the Steelers won 7 featured 4th Quarter comebacks or game winning drives – including what will go down as one of the greatest drives in superbowl history capped by one of the greatest plays in superbowl history. What’s more, there is no doubt that these drives could have been accomplished by any QB that ever played for the Steelers and very few who ever played the game period.

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While some still complain about Ben’s presence in the pocket, his decision making, his tendency to hold on the ball too long, his intelligence, his penchant for women with Big hair, his cockiness or the size of his chin. There is no one who can make an argument about his ability to win football games – in fact his ability to will his team to victory in close games is the intangible that separates him from other quarterbacks.

Remind me again when somebody has said the same about Carson Palmer, or Drew Brees, or Jay Cutler, or any of the other media darlings out there that put up flashy numbers, and get nominated for the pro-bowl?

I will give Brady his due. He deserves it. He is a great QB. I will give Peyton the same honor.  But like so many here in Pittsburgh, it’s hard to argue with what we have seen Ben do on the field. You won’t see it on the stat line. You won’t see it at the pro-bowl. You won’t see it in your fantasy football league, or read about it in sports columns. He doesn’t make good commercials and you are more likely to see pictures of him chugging beer with some trashy busty local girl then hanging out with TV celebrities or Giselle.

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But the kid wins football games. Pretty, ugly, scary and beautiful. He makes his team better – by winning games that other QBs could not win. I am not sure what stat I can show you to convince you. The truth is that I don’t care. Despite the long diatribe, I actually prefer that all of you out there think that Ben is a mediocre QB on a good team. I would rather they keep giving Ken Anderson trips to the pro-bowl because he puts up big stats. The bottom line is that it makes Ben angry and unlike most QBs he seems to play better angry.

 And when he plays well the Steelers win Super Bowls.

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