PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 17: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers thows a first quarter pass while playing the Cleveland Browns on October 17 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
It's been written here the success of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger often comes due to his ability to extend plays well past their normal point of death and find something off-schedule in which to keep chains moving.
NFL Films' Greg Cosell, one of the best analysts alive, has an excellent piece of analysis on Roethlisberger's overall game that not only refutes some of that theory (warning: he doesn't use the words "offensive" or "line" next to each other at all), he says Roethlisberger has improved greatly as a passer from his Super Bowl-winning second season.
As most things from Cosell, it's well-written and informative. One of my favorite stances he has is on the notion of the "winning" quarterback. Cosell largely feels that trait is arbitrary, citing Patriots QB Tom Brady as an example. Brady is far better a quarterback from 2007 to today, but has no Super Bowl rings. He has three from 2001-2006.
Cosell asks whether Brady is still a "winner." It's a great question, and one I feel should be asked any time the topic comes up. Clearly, he's won before, and judging by his 2007 output - probably the best individual passing season in league history - his team may not have earned the ring, but certainly, he played at a high level.
Cosell isn't comparing Roethlisberger to Brady, but he is saying much of the same thing. The first of Roethlisberger's two Super Bowl championships came amid one of the worst games he's ever played.
The argument could easily be made that it was the worst performance by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. That was seen as irrelevant. The Steelers won and Roethlisberger was the quarterback - case closed.
I'd venture a guess most of us are comfortable with the last part of that statement. Not to take anything away from Roethlisberger, but he didn't play well at all in that game, despite playing very well in the three playoff games before it in 2005. He ratcheted things up a notch in 2008 when he played well in all three playoff games, en route to his second championship.
All the while, we're praising Roethlisberger for those off-schedule plays, for "making something happen" when he's out there. Cosell doesn't quite see it that way.
The best way to portray Roethlisberger at that point in his career (2009) was this: When his pre-snap read was correct, he was outstanding, delivering with rhythm, timing and accuracy. When the picture was a little cloudy and muddied, his predisposition was to rely on his instincts. Roethlisberger was more of a reactionary quarterback, responding to (and countering) the defense after the snap with his strength, exceptional movement ability and extraordinary downfield vision on the run.
Gradually over time, Roethlisberger has gotten better and better. He's more aware before the snap of the ball, and he's more disciplined in the pocket. While he still has the ability to impress with his idiosyncratic combination of physicality and movement, his game is now less arbitrary, less random, more structured, and therefore more consistent. This is rarely acknowledged, however, because there has been no clear quantifiable means by which to measure the progress. The Steelers still win and Roethlisberger still makes plays. As I said earlier, case closed. End of discussion.
That misses the point entirely. One part of Roethlisberger's improvement for which he does not get enough credit is his ability to make throws consistently from the pocket. It sounds strange to say that, because that's the essence of NFL quarterbacking: delivering from the pocket. Yet the continued emphasis on his distinctive style has led many to disregard his pocket passing.
Color me guilty. For my useless part, I was not out-and-out impressed with Roethlisberger's throws from the pocket last season, and I've questioned not just his arm strength, but his arm health. Cosell sees it a little differently, though.
I charted all 60 of Roethlisberger's pass plays of 20 yards or more in 2011. Only five of them came outside the pocket. Time and again, Roethlisberger exhibited one of the most essential attributes necessary to play at a consistently high level: the ability to stand in the pocket in the face of pressure and deliver the ball with accuracy. That's an element of his play that often gets overlooked. It shouldn't.
Roethlisberger has a natural ability to throw with just the right amount of touch. Does he have a strong arm? Yes. But I would contend that he is more of a finesse passer with power than a pure arm-strength passer. The difference may be subtle, but it's significant. It's one reason he has the ability to throw from different platforms, without his feet always being set and on balance. Overall, few quarterbacks in the NFL have Roethlisberger's throwing skill set.
He definitely shines a different light on the Steelers' franchise passer. With his point of view in mind, it's interesting to think about the direction of Roethlisberger's career, and how, perhaps, his maturity as a player is melding with the best protection he's had since that first Super Bowl championship year, and wonder how far away he is from the gaudy numbers being produced by some of this quarterback brethren.