Since the invention of the forward pass, the impact of a quarterback on a game of football has increased to the point where many fans believe that you can't be a good team without one. While this belief holds true more often than not, it's not totally accurate and because of this thought we tend to skew our thoughts on the position and the players who play it. In a lot of cases a quarterbacks major flaws can be dismissed because of major bonuses to their play style. Players who do things "outside of the box" can be both hero and goat, legend and pariah. There are several players we know fully well are just that, quarterback anomalies.
One of my favorite terms when I hear players talk about quarterbacks is "Gunslinger". It conjures up images of the Wild West, where you didn't look at that guy at the end of the saloon wrong, or you'd be squaring up with him at high noon the next day, possibly waiting to meet your maker. You hear it all the time, Ooh, he's a gunslinger, just look at the zip on that pass, he has the confidence to throw it anywhere. Right, anywhere, like... to the other team. We love these guys, and you almost always think of one guy when you hear this term, you know him, you love him, Brett Favre.
I mean, just look at that picture. If I could add some tumble weeds to it, maybe some spurs, two six shooters, and there he is, in all his glory. I know more recently than not, Brett has become a polarizing figure in sports, but at one time, he was the man. Brett was always known for two things on the field, a rocket arm like no other, and a propensity to throw interceptions. While a look back at his career statsshows great amount of success, it also shows an alarming number of mistakes, mistakes that could have, and at times did, cost his team dearly. But, because Brett was labelled a gunslinger, we knew it came with the territory, buyer beware if you will. A more recent gunslinger we see weekly is Jay Cutler. How long did it take for the Brett Favre comparisons to come out with this guy coming out of college. I mean, he's got that big arm, he can make every throw, he has the all confidence in the world. And oh yeah, he averages more than an interception per game too... awesome. But, he's a gunslinger don't you know, it's what they do, so it's somehow okay. In the past, a guy like Joe Namath would come to mind. Broadway Joe, nobody cooler. I heard once that when he threw, you could hear the ball fly. With an arm like that, what more could you ask for right? Well, how about a better ratio of interceptions to games played than roughly 1.5 to 1. Gunslingers, as fun as they are to watch, can have just as much of a negative impact on the game as a positive one, if not more. They can lead a team to the promise land at any time, from anywhere. They can also throw a game clinching, heart wrenching, interception at the worst time that can only make you scratch your head in disbelief. But hey, they're gunslingers, it's what they do.
Another type of anomaly quarterback is the scrambler. I'll admit it, I have a soft spot for these guys. They are flat out entertaining to watch. You never know what they're going to do at anytime. This creates an aura in the crowd and even watching the game at home. A feeling that you may see something unlike anything you've ever seen before.
The guys that come to mind when we think of scramblers include, Mike Vick, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb and our own Dennis Dixon. In the past names like Roger Staubach, Steve Young, and Fran Tarkenton all made fans think the impossible was possible, and that they could do anything with the ball in their hands. But the drawback to a running quarterback is more often than not, they can't throw well, or are at least perceived to be a less talented passer. This tends to be true for many reasons. A talented runner normally doesn't have to fine tune the art of passing because, well, they can run. As the scrambler quarterback ages, they tend to lose that edge. Some finally become the passer that many wanted them to be years ago. Some fade into obscurity because they are unable to play within the accepted parametersof the position, and never get a shot to be the man anywhere else. The hardest part of being a quarterback is decision making. Aside from arm strength and passing accuracy this is the variable that decides most often how good a quarterback can be. In the split second make up your mind world of a quarterback, any delay in your decision making can be a disaster. Most quarterbacks have to decide who they are throwing to and where. Add in the extra dimension of should I just run, and the scrambler's thought process is even slower in the pocket. This is why scramblers are what they are. It's why we love them, and it's why we hate them at times.
We have maybe the strangest anomaly quarterback of them all. There's not even a name for his brand of play. Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved player to Steeler Nation. He is our quarterback, and his play has helped us return to the mantel as a top tier contender year in and year out. But let's face it, he's just a different breed of football player. Ben's ability to stay strong in the pocket and extend a play far beyond the time any normal quarterback would stand back there and wait is his strong suit. It is also his undoing.
For every play Ben makes slipping a sack, there is, well, a sack. They come at different times, from different players, but the bottom line is they are a part of his game. The other part of Ben's brand of quarterbacking is extending the play. This has several effects on our team. First, the offensive line is forced to block their guy longer than any other line in pro football. It's really almost an impossible task to ask them to do. Take the best of the best from around our collegiate football universe, put them in front of you on a weekly basis, and block them for longer than anyone else has to. And we really wonder why the sack totals increased every season Ben's pass attempts did? Is our line great? No, but they aren't garbage either. Our quarterback's play effects them negatively, because he increase their likely hood of failure on every single play he passes. And it goes beyond just the line my friends.
Our wide receivers and tight ends are forced to continue their routes beyond the distance they are drawn up for. A term we affectionately refer to as "backyard play". They may have a slant or a curl or a 10 yard in or out route, but those routes only last so long, and while Ben does what Ben does, they are forced to improvise. Hines is great at it, how many times did Hines catch a pass over the middle when he had no business even having a ball thrown to him, but Ben's ability to extend the play made him eventually do what he likes to do, go over the middle. Santonio is also great at it. He has an ability to find an open spot in a defense after the defender's are forced to compensate for our quarterback's play and pursue. Mike Wallace showed a similar ability, but he seems to end up doing what he loves to do, go deep. He's good at it too. Heath does what Heath does. Stay a constant target for Ben to rely on when all else fails. His team record receptions for a tight end this season shows just that.
And, finally, Ben's play effects the one person who perhaps becomes the scapegoat for Bad Ben more often than any other, Bruce Arians. Bruce is the guy who takes the blame most often for Ben's play. The love of deep routes, while at times they are an option no doubt, Ben's willingness to throw them are indicative of what he does every play. The longer a play develops, the more likely a wideout is to go deep, or at least deep-er than a normal route. Let's be honest here, how many times does Ben drop back, traditionally, and throw deep within the accepted 3-5 step drop most quarterbacks throw in? Not very often. Bruce's playbook is often described as back yard football, when in reality that's our quarterback. If you really think Bruce draws up plays saying, alright wide outs, run a round a little bit left, run around a little bit right, Ben will find you. I'd call you delusional. This is a guy who tutored Peyton Manning. I think he understands the concept of timing routes.
What this really is with Bruce is him being the guy we blame for Ben, without having to blame Ben. It happens with a lot of anomaly quarterbacks. Either a coach or coordinator is pointed at and people say, well, he's the reason we haven't seen the best of a player. Or, in the times when an anomaly quarterback is successful, like with Ben, they are the guy holding them, and the team, back. Despite sometimes being successful in many ways, the coach is still looked at negatively. In Bruce's case, at times his playcalling warrants such claims (many times), but in as many cases, the fault lies as squarely on Ben's shoulders as anybody elses, we just don't want to admit it. Look at Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren, Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid, Mike Vick and his litany of coaches and coordinators. The more successful the player, the more time the coach is given. The more talented and unsuccessful a player is, the quicker the coach is given the hook. It's the nature of the beast.
So, in conclusion, when we judge Ben, and any other anomaly quarterback, for his play on the field, and we celebrate the ups, we must also look objectively at his faults. Recognize that with the great successes we have been fortunate to witness, we will also suffer some heartbreaking defeats. In Ben's case what keeps him being continually thought of as one of the best quarterbacks in football could, and has, also been his downfall. It is the same story that has played out at the quarterback position ever since the very first pass.