We've got two weeks until the Steelers next take the field against the Cincinnati Bengals. When they do, there will be no more weeks off until (hopefully) late January. So what better time than now to recap how each and everyone of our guys has played thus far through 5 weeks. Let's break it down by position, starting with the quarterbacks. Starting there makes sense for logical reasons, but I also think it's appropriate that we shower Ben with praise after his gutty performances the last two weeks. After all, much of our attention has been directed towards the offensive line, Bruce Arians, the surprising Mewelde Moore, and the animalistic tendencies of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.
Your turn in the spotlight Ben.
|2008 - Ben Roethlisberger||5||95.7||79||124||63.7||947||189.4||7.6||7||3||11||28||5.6||2.5||0||18||111|
Really? A 95.7 rating and a respectable 7.6 YPA given all the protection problems he's been forced to deal with in Weeks 2-4? That's impressive and it's a testament to Ben's ability to will himself and his team to making plays and victory. It's also proof of his underrated accuracy. Ben's hulking frame and often times off balance deliveries shift the focus away from his uncanny ability to fit passes into very small windows. He's not always perfect, but more often than not, he's delivering imminently catchable passes from all different arm angles. He's one of only a few in this league who can legitimately lay claim to this unique and invaluable trait.
As Jacksonville Jaguars QB David Garrard said:
"I've never seen something like that before in that situation, with the game on the line, guys pulling him to the ground and he throws it 20 yards downfield, on the money.''
I realize I didn't properly point out just how remarkable AND clutch that play was. If you had forgotten, we were faced with a 3rd and 7 from the Jags 31. I'm not sure we knew it at the time, but apparently Jeff Reed wasn't available to kick there, making that conversion all the more enormous. Garrard's right though. That's an unphatomably tough throw to make over the middle of the field where QBs are taught not to serve one up off your back foot. Well, that's if you don't have deceptively amazing upper and lower body strength, like Ben. What a performance, and what an addition to his growing collection of 4th quarter game winning drives. As has been said before here on BTSC, Roethlisberger is a once in 20-30 years type quarterback.
Moving forward into the meat of the season, Ben must continue to study defenses so that he can do whatever possible to help call out correct protection assignments at the line of scrimmage. If we're going to go no-huddle a bit more, which I think we wiil, he must figure out how to balance being in the no-huddle and not rushing, hopefully finding a perfect tempo that keeps his teammates in rhythm and comfortable but defenders off guard.
There are also instances on occasion where he could just throw it away. I don't think any of us would want him to develop some sort of Pavlovian response to pressure where he immediately shuts down any chance to making a play, but there are occasionally times when that's necessary. Field position, ball security, and most importantly, self-preservation, all make doing this important for Ben.
Let me throw one final thing out there, probably over-stepping my bounds as a non-participant in the NFL. If Ben continues to be subjected to play calling that he finds poor, I hope he lets his voice be heard and basically shoves Arians aside with his big $100+ million dollar backside. Ben ain't going anywhere, so if he truly feels strongly about trying something, I hope he takes charge. Ben's a great teammate and understands the importance of hierarchy, but if I had to guess, the Tom Brady's, Peyton Manning's, and Drew Brees' of the league have a BIG say in what the scheme will be each week. Again, just a guess, but my point is I love Ben's competitive fire, and if he sees something out there in the heat of the battle, speak up! Then carry that over to the film room the following week.
I wrote this earlier this summer, about Ben's likely statistical output in 2008:
264 completions, 404 attempts, 65.3%, 3154 yards, 32 TDs, 11 INTs
I still smile when I see Ben's 2007 line. That's so freakin' outstanding. Let's take a step back though and realize that, at least statistically, last year could be the greatest statistical year Ben Roethlisberger will ever have as a professional. Yes, he will throw for more than 3154 yards at some point in his career; and I wouldn't wager against him ever having a 30+ TD season before he hangs it up. But nevertheless, when you look at the season as a package, then factor in the spotty running game he had in certain situations, PLUS the porous offensive line, you should then be able to appreciate all that he was able to accomplish statistically. That's so few mistakes for how pressured he was last year.
Looks like the numbers will indeed drop this year, but that means next to nothing. He's as good as he was in his best moments last year, and he's proven capable of willing the team to victory late in the game in back-to-back weeks against very tough opponents. If you watch the games, you know his importance to our football team, even if it doesn't show up to the fantasy obsessed dork fan. All that said, he'll still have some big games, like the one he had last night.
Finally, let's end with ball protection. Remember how we used to worry ourselves sick in 2006 about Ben and turnovers? There were extenuating circumstances of course that year, but even so, the improvement has been so marked that it's really a non-issue for this team. There is a possibility Ben's being too careful with the ball and not unloading the ball and trusting his progressions and reads but I think generally it's a matter of him just maturing and understanding the importance of minimizing cheap opportunities for your opponent. Simply put, he's growing into an elite QB in this league, and consistent ball protection is a prerequisite for admission to the fraternity. The low INT numbers are a sight to behold, but the truly astonishing achievement has been the lack of lost fumbles since the Philadelphia game. He keeps taking a beating, yet manages to hold the ball. We don't see the 3 fumble type games that the Kurt Warner's and Drew Brees' have, and that's immesurably important to this year's football team.
I say he's worth every last penny. Hell, I'd say we got a bargain at $100+ million.
You are a Steelers player now, so I de facto like you Byron, but let's all just hope you ingratiate yourself with the league by being a great teammate and ready backup so that you can compete for a starting gig next year in a market like Detroit. Byron did see time against Houston, but the game was well out of reach and we were content just running on 1st and 2nd down before attempting an unimaginative 3-step drop pass attempt on 3rd down.
That reminds me, our offense totally sputtered after Ben was yanked in Week 1 until the 1st half of last night's game. I wrote at the time that I wasn't thrilled to completely put on the brakes. I cited the voodu 'momentum' term at the time, and was perhaps appropriately questioned by those who thought that was nonsense. Could just be Houston's defense was terrible or any number of things, but I think after nearly a year and a half of watching Arians and this offense, it's clear that we have to do everything in our power to keep whatever flow we may establish going. Last night was another great example. We went away from much of what was succesful in the first half after intermission and stalled for the better part of the game's second half, until finally sensing the urgency of the moment and stringing together a few productive drives. If it means scoring a TD against a unsuspecting opponent (ahem, that means you Cincy and Cleveland), so be it in my book. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Last thing. If the unthinkable were to happen and Ben got hurt, I think Dennis Dixon would be a better option at QB. Think we have pass protection problems now? Imagine Leftwich lumbering around and winding up in the pocket. Ay gavult. No thanks. I'd rather us deploy something like what Miami's doing and let the quartet of Dennis Dixon, FWP, Mewelde Moore and Hines Ward figure out ways to eek the ball down the field. Whatever it takes. We must not blow the (what I think will be, anyway) golden opportunities to win a 6th ring provided by our defense this year. Let's just hope this is the last we speak of such things.