PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Charlie Batch #16 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the game against the St. Louis Rams at Heinz Field on December 24, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
Nearly two years ago I wrote a piece making the case why Charlie Batch should be given serious consideration to be, at the very least part of the equation at quarterback while Ben served a four game suspension at the beginning of the 2010 season. As we now know, in spite of being ignored by both the coaching staff and fans in the weeks leading up to the beginning of that season, Batch played a critical role in those early weeks and performed well, helping to lead the team to a 3-1 record that would eventually propel them to an appearance in the Super Bowl. At the time that I wrote it, reactions were mixed.
On Monday the Steelers signed Batch to a one year contract. Again the reactions have been mixed, with many of the same arguments, particularly the negative ones, being recycled. It may prove useful to revisit some of these issues again and see if they have any actual validity.
Charlie is too old
In the minds of many Charlie was too old several years ago. He certainly must be too old now. Even some of those who welcome his return have also wondered why he hasn't hung it up yet and suggest that this year is surely the end of the road for this popular player. In some respects this is an understandable argument. For most players at most positions you are pretty much over the hill and well down the other side when you reach your late 30s; but not necessarily for quarterbacks, and especially a backup quarterback. As I pointed out in the previous article, Batch is five years younger than Brett Favre, a player that was still commanding attention two years ago. And he's way younger than, say George Blanda, who made critical contributions to the Oakland Raiders when he was in his 40s. Of course, the beauty of this kind of argument is that if you keep making it sooner or later it will be true. But was it true when some of the same people were saying the same thing in 2010 (and before)? Ask Tampa Bay or Tennessee if he was too old, or for that matter St Louis last year. If the idea that he was too old was premature or simply wrong, then what evidence other than a calendar can be presented to support the conclusion that Batch is too old today? How do you explain a front office that just a month ago expressed its sentimentality for the aged by jettisoning three of the most popular players in franchise history being somehow blinded to fact that old man Batch is far past the time that he should be put out to pasture? Maybe this is the year that Charlie is too old, maybe his skills will deteriorate to the point that he can no longer effectively contribute. But the belief that he is too old is just that, a belief that is not grounded in facts.
Charlie's arm is shot
Yeah, they were saying that two years ago as well. And when I see those comments in print the image I keep seeing are those two long touchdown passes to Mike Wallace in the Tampa Bay game. Batch certainly doesn't have the arm strength of Ben or Byron or even Dennis Dixon. Perhaps it was never as strong as any of these other players. The question is whether or not he is effective with his throws. To be blunt, neither Ben or Byron throw the most accurate long balls in the world, and in the case of Ben a number of scoring opportunities have been lost because that is true.
Charlie is too fragile
This is probably the genesis of the belief that Batch is too old. A couple of injuries suffered in quick succession planted the seed in many minds that age had made Charlie incapable of staying healthy. It seemed to be part of Tomlin's explanation for not giving Batch a fair shot at trying to win the quarterback's job during the 2010 preseason. However, since then Charlie has been far more reliable from a health perspective than either the younger Leftwich or Dixon.
Charlie's record with the Lions wasn't that good
This would be like judging the career of Barry Sanders on the Lions' playoff appearances. The only thing that can be concluded about the record of the Lions is that Detroit was a poor franchise for quite some time.
So, what is the argument for Batch?
The list of quarterbacks in this league who have as much or more is pretty short. Given the constant championship ambitions of this franchise, that is not a small thing. Beyond the relatively meager on field contributions, what he provides in the quarterback room and the practice field is substantial. And with the team facing the installation of a new system, those qualities will carry even greater weight this year. And I believe too little is made of the impact that he has had in supporting Ben professionally and, likely, personally.
When Charlie is on the field the Steelers usually win. He's a resourceful on the field leader and a good game manager. When it comes to other quarterbacks we are talking promise, fantasies and wishful thinking. Leftwich, Dixon, Troy Smith and any rookie or free agent that you can name have little or nothing to demonstrate that they are capable of consistently and effectively leading this team on the field. I'm not saying they can't, I am saying they haven't.
Especially important given the leadership losses this team has suffered (so far!) during this off season. None of us can know for certain what the full extent of the impact any particular leader has on the locker room, but I feel comfortable in speculating that it is substantial. And that leadership, when you consider his position in the players union extends beyond just the Steelers locker room. This is not just a team leader, this is a league leader.
A Pittsburgh Guy
In and of itself probably not a determining factor, but in combination with others an amplifying factor for the Rooney family and Steeler Nation. He's one of ours, and if there is any benefit of the doubt to be had, well.