Giants fans seem to be tending to other matters this morning, so I'm going to post this here to see what Steelers fans think of my assessment that Ben might have struggled had he been subjected to the pressures of New York.. The fun debate is taking place in the previous thread, but I wanted to neverthless have this here for posterity's sake. Be sure to check out Big Blue View for all the solid Giants coverage you may want leading up to Sunday's game.
What's going on New York Giants fans! How's it feel to have avoided the Super Bowl hangover that debilitated both my beloved Steelers in 2006 and many others over the years?
While in college, my parents worked and lived in Manhattan for one year. I'd take the train up from Philly to go hear a native Brooklyn DJ named Danny Tenaglia at his long running weekly residency at Arc down near the financial district. I have fond memories of those nights (the parts I can remember) and of the underappreciated beauty of the city more generally, but one thing is undeniable - y'all are some crazy folks. Work hard, play hard. When I'd call it a night at like 4 or 5 am and see people just then arriving, I was..well who cares, but the point is, your New York Giants somehow avoided all the distractions that accompany being SB Champs in a jungle like New York.
And part of that comes from the maturity and leadership strides that Eli Manning has clearly made. The improved accuracy and decision making don't hurt either. No longer do I see Eli attempt the impossible from his back foot facing pressure on 3rd down during key moments in a game. Instead, I see a QB who quickly goes through his progressions, understands he has a competent safety valve in Derek Ward, and is content throwing it away and waiting for the next opportunity to make something happen.
Can the Giants continue to avoid any sort of prolonged period of poor play? I hope that question even comes into play starting Sunday night when these two well-rounded teams clash in what I sense is an extremely anticipated matchup amongst our respective fan bases. Can't wait. On to the subject at hand: Who would I take - Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning?
Well, let me first say that I'm going to forego rattling off all the stats that point in Roethlisberger's favor. If you're curious about the statistical comparison between the two SB winning QBs, you can read your maestro Ed's case for Eli, which includes many of the pertinent stats - all of which favor Ben. Anyway, as intelligent football fans know - which I know you Giants fans are - statistics don't always tell the full story. Often times, they don't even come close to telling the whole story. So I won't be that guy who just keeps pointing to the numbers and dismiss other considerations.
Why? Well for one, that'd be too easy and shallow. But also, the numbers would be a disservice to Big Ben, because even though he had a monster year statistically in 2007 which he may never match again (at least in terms of TDs - 32), his numbers rarely tell the entire tale of what he brings to each game, and they certainly don't indicate that he's at least a top 3-5 QB in this league, and the type of player that comes around only every 20-25 years or so for a franchise.
Did you know his 23 wins when either trailing or tied in the 4th quarter are the most in the league since 2004? Yup, Big Ben's got a little bit of John Elway in him. Probably will never have the same intelligence as Elway had, but in terms of his big-moment greatness, as well as his ability to dismiss 280 pound linemen as they try to sack him and then make something happen outside the pocket, Roethlisberger's quite similar to the Hall of Famer.
One last thing about Ben that's relevant to the game Sunday. He's light years ahead of where he was two years ago, and even three years ago in 2005 when he was the youngest ever starting QB to win a Super Bowl. To try to argue that Roethlisberger has somehow maxed out at age 25 (which Ed did while merely trying to show love for Eli) is just _________ (fill in whatever synonym you want for untrue).
What makes Ben so much better now compared to a few years ago is that he's SO much smarter with the football than he was then. Kinda like Eli. He has a huge arm and like all great athletes, he's cocky and his own biggest believer, so during his first several years in the league, there was NO window too small for him to force a ball into. He could do it all and he wanted to prove it. Well, that's partly why Bill Cowher only let him throw it about 22 times a game in '04 and '05, and why in 2006 he led the league in INTs (26) when then OC Ken Whisenhunt opted to let him throw the ball 31 times per game. Actually his motorcycle crash, appendectomy and concussion all had an effect, but it definitely didn't help that he suddenly was asked to to be Superman out there.
Starting last year though, Ben made a commitment to protecting the football. He only threw 11 picks last year and has only thrown 3 this year, two of which were not an indictment of his decision making (one slipped out of his hand and one was a late half or late game situation heave). Ben's always been accurate and will continue to be for the remainder of his career. Now that he has a legit pass catching RB to check down to, you can expect that completion % to go up even higher, while the sack numbers decline and the INTs stay at an acceptably low level. Ben's found a formula that works I believe and we're going to see him win lots of playoff games in the future if the front office can get some offensive linemen to help protect him just a bit better.
Let me say this though to close: both teams have the right guy for their respective teams/markets. I'm not sure Big Ben was mature enough at 21-22 years old to handle New York like Eli has, and while I'm not sure that Ben would have struggled quite as much as Manning had he been in the exact same scenario, I am sure that he wouldn't have taken it all in stride quite like Eli has. Ben's a great teammate and the first to fess up when he makes a mistake. In fact, we often joke about him praising his offensive line after a 6 sack game. But he was like many kids his age, quite impetuous and bold both on the field and with his off the field actions, at least so say sources closer to the team than me. But you could just tell by listening to him - you LOVED his competitive drive but just kinda knew that he rubbed some people the wrong way, perhaps even in his own locker room. Who knows how he would have responded to failure in NYC, assuming he would have had at least somewhat similar struggles back in '04-'06 when the Giants were still struggling to play consistent football.
And by the same token, I'm not sure a fanbase like the Steelers would have been pleased with Manning had he gone through the same turnover and decision making problem early in his career. Remember, Ben was asked to merely 'manage the game' (hate that term, btw) as a rookie and 2nd year QB. The team was stacked, particularly in '04, and Ben would have been villainized had he blown it for the franchise with inopportunistic INTs, which often plagued Manning in crucial moments.
And let's face it. Steelers fans are quite simply the most famous in the NFL for their unrivalred ubiquity and sense of pride in their organization's family-run stability. Injecting football royalty like a Manning takes attention away from the collective sense of ownership, congeniality, and pride that permeates our team and our fanbases' identity and diverts it to one particular individual. And while I will say that Eli is not a me-first guy in any sense of the word, having a player who is in a way, bigger than the team, at least in the eye of the fans and the media- as both Eli and Peyton are through no fault of their own - is simply not something that would go over very well in Pittsburgh.
For those reasons, I think both players are in the right place. I think Ben's a better QB, and his numbers and more diverse physical talents support that, but I think both fanbases can rest their heads at night knowing they both got the right guy for the job. At least now. Hate to finish what a low-blow, but don't forget, New Yorkers had all but given up on Eli and were wishing they had drafted Ben -just- as the team was about to embark on its improbable and historic SB march. Steelers fans knew from Day 1 we had something special. Just sayin'.
Be well New York! Check ya Sunday.