Understanding Ben Roethlisberger: The league's non-statistical passer baffles most

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has outstanding statistics, but those statistics still fail to define what makes him a great player.

There was recently a version of the Battle of Gettysburg on the site. While it didn't center around any one particular topic (there were dozens), the premise was the use of statistics to quantify the career of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

While nowhere near statistical ineptitude, Roethlisberger's passing yards and passer rating do not clearly show viewers the kind of player he is. Despite ranking well in both areas over the span of his career, they don't speak to the difficulty of stopping Roethlisberger as an individual.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus recently wrote a feature on this topic, and in doing it, he accomplished something few outside of those who root feverishly for Roethlisberger can; he got it.

In his article titled "The Enigmatic Game of Ben Roethlisberger," he takes an unusual path for a PFF feature, largely free-written without statistics. He makes it work to a high level, and that's exactly his point.

Roethlisberger is an enigma, both for fans and defenses.

Monson highlights the infamous touchdown pass to Heath Miller against the Cowboys in Week 15 - after the game, Roethlisberger would exclaim in frustration they had the wrong play called. Monson didn't mention that piece, possibly due to it not having a direct connection to what he was writing. I only bring it up because it puts into perspective some of Roethlisberger's brilliance.

Roethlisberger's opinion was the play called in that particular spot was to exploit what was expected to be more of a prevention look from the Cowboys' defense. Roethlisberger noticed this wasn't the case, and basically went off script to make something happen.

How often does he do that? We won't fully know. The result of the play Monson breaks down (very well) was a touchdown, therefore, it's hard to dispute he made a bad decision. But it's impossible to say going off schedule is a bad idea.

How many other quarterbacks have that weapon in their arsenal?

Some have said in the past players like Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III have excelled at very early points in their careers due to gimmick offensive wrinkles inserted to exploit their ability to run from the pocket. Roethlisberger uses quickness, vision and guts to shift around the pocket (as Monson demonstrates on this play), climbing shrinking and moving laterally, until his team is in an advantageous position.

Perhaps speed demons like RGIII and Kaepernick can scramble for a few yards on plays like this. Do they have the ability to stay in the pocket, all of it collapsing around him, hang onto the ball for 8.4 seconds, give hard pump fakes to freeze linebackers, who, by this point, have no idea what's going on, and wait to deliver a throw that results in six points?

Maybe that's more of a rhetorical question, but on fourth-and-goal in the Super Bowl, Kaepernick saw a free rusher coming at him as soon as he got the ball, and he threw it to the corner, relying on wide receiver Michael Crabtree to make a play. He didn't.

Roethlisberger, on that one particular play against Dallas, shook off and avoided several pass rushers, and delivered a great throw down the field.

He got credit for a touchdown, but the fear of that play happening every time he drops back is what makes Roethlisberger a great player. It's also what makes him a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.


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