Ben Roethlisberger has 175 starts since he was drafted in 2004 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that time, his record is 117-58. In the time Roethlisberger has been sidelined, Pittsburgh (mostly due to injury) has started 6 other quarterbacks: Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich, Michael Vick and Landry Jones. Within the games one of these quarterbacks has started, and not Roethlisberger, the team has gone 13-11. Clearly, still a winning record. If the tale of woe that comes with any given Big Ben injury is to believed, then surely this number should show a losing record, and not a winning one. Admittedly, this is only a difference of 2, but a winning record it is.
How has Pittsburgh done this in the stead of Big Ben?
The first quarterback that Pittsburgh started over Big Ben was Tommy Maddox. Back in 2004, in the first game of the season against Oakland, the Steelers chose to go with Maddox over Roethlisberger. Bearing in mind that Big Ben had only been drafted that year, it is an understandable choice. In the 5 games that Maddox has started over Big Ben, the Steelers have a record of 2-3. Maddox showed his highest completion rating in the week one start against Oakland in 2004 with 59.09. In any of these 5 games, he only scored one touchdown, against Buffalo in the Steelers week 17 matchup of the 2004 season (but played January 2005). These two games, being the two that Maddox won in his 5 starts over Roethlisberger, should therefore be looked at more closely.
Against Oakland, Maddox went 13/22 for 142 yards with 0 touchdowns or interceptions, which is nothing to scream about. This definitely seems that Maddox was being used as more of a game manager. This is backed up by the rushing stats for that game, 33 attempts for 107 yards and three touchdowns.
Against Buffalo, Maddox went 12/25 for 120 yards, one touchdown and 2 interceptions. Again, not much to scream about. The team rushed even more that game, with 43 attempts for 157 yards (but no touchdowns). This means that again, the quarterback is being used in more of a game manager role, and letting the running backs take a good amount of workload.
Charlie Batch's stats are little more hopeful, with a record of 6-3 when starting over Roethlisberger. Batch's highest completion rating was in the week 3 matchup at Tampa Bay in 2010. The most touchdowns he scored in any of these nine games was three, doing so in week 1 of 2006 against Miami, and then again in week 3 of 2010 at Tampa Bay. His other four victories were in week 9 of 2005 at Green Bay, week 10 of 2005 versus Cleveland (Maddox also played this game), week 16 of 2011 versus St. Louis and week 13 of 2012 at Baltimore. Yes, Batch had a win as a backup quarterback for the Steelers playing in Baltimore - it can happen.
Looking at the first of his three touchdown games, week 1 of 2006 versus Miami, Batch went 15/25 for 209 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. This is more impressive than what Maddox did over Big Ben, but when looking at the rushing yards, 38 attempts for 146 yards, Batch was still relying on the run game.
Against Tampa Bay in week 3 of 2010 at Tampa Bay, Batch seems more typical of a game manager, going 12/17 for 186 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In this game, when Pittsburgh was rushing, the team had 32 attempts for 201 yards and one touchdown. I think, in this game at least, the touchdowns are an example of the team taking advantage of a given situation and not showing the prowess of the quarterback.
Dennis Dixon seems more atypical of what fans seem to be thinking of a backup quarterback for Pittsburgh resembles. Dixon had a record of 2-1 for the Steelers, his highest completion percentage being 69.23 against Atlanta in week 1 of 2010, and the most touchdowns being one in week 11 of 2009 at Baltimore (a game the Steelers lost).
As the only game that Dixon was the only quarterback that played, the only game I want to look at is the week 1 matchup against Atlanta. He went 18/26 for 236 yards and an interception. Those aren't awful (all things considered) but Dixon was leaning on the run game too. Rushing, Steelers had 30 attempts for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Byron Leftwich only had one start for the Steelers, and it was a loss. He scored no touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 46.15 in week 10 of 2012 agasint Baltimore. Being as he didn't win, I don't feel the need to look into this game because it won't give any insight into the successes of backup QBs for the Steelers.
Last season, much like this season, there were injuries to quarterback. This made Pittsburgh sign a veteran with Michael Vick. Vicks record when starting for the Steelers is 2-1. His highest completion percentage being in the week 4 matchup agasint Baltimore (which the Steelers lost) with 73.08. He scored one touchdown in this game, as well as the week 5 matchup at San Diego (which the Steelers won).
The week 5 matchup at San Diego is another example of game management. Vick went 13/26 for 203 yards, one touchdown and an interception. When rushing, the Steelers had 27 attempts for 155 yards and a touchdown. This was a game for Le'Veon Bell to show his real ability, which he did.
The week 6 matchup against Arizona is of note (the other win where Vick started) because most of the passing was done by now QB2, Landry Jones. Vick went out injured, so this game was handed over to Jones. When passing, the Steelers went 11/20 for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. When rushing, the Steelers had 32 attempts for 142 yards. Although this game showed that Jones could score touchdowns, beyond that, it seems to me that this was against another game manager role, being as the passing yards were so low and the rushing yards more commendable. However, this does bring me onto the final and most recent starting backup quarterback.
Landry Jone is someone who has a lot of debate surrounding him and more importantly, his ability to perform in the stead of Big Ben. Landry Jones is 1-3 when starting for the Steelers. His highest completion percentage was in week 10 of 2015 agasint Cleveland (where he was taken off for the injured Roethlisberger, who finished the game). The most touchdowns he has scored in a game is one - doing so in week 7 of 2015 at Kansas City, and more recently week 7 of 2016 agasint New England (more on that in a second).
Looking at the Cleveland game, something really sticks out - how this game changed when Big Ben took to the field. Compared to the other games when a backup quarterback started, this one has some impressive passing stats - 25/37 for 402 yards, three touchdowns and 1 interception. Of which, Jones contributed 23 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Big Ben, therefore, in a game he didn't even start, had 379 yards, three touchdown and 1 interception. When rushing, Steelers had 21 attempts for 60 yards. Big Ben (as if you needed informing) is not a game manager. Many use this game as evidence that the Steelers are great when playing Big Ben, and useless with anyone else, but a couple things don't fit with that opinion: first- this was agasint the Browns; second- the Steelers have a winning record when playing a quarterback over Big Ben and third - the New England game this season.
Yes, the Steelers lost the game against New England, but I think it showed some promise in Jones. in that game, Jones had a completion rating of 61.7. That's not great, but he passed for 281 yards and one (pretty great touchdown) to Darrius Heyward-Bey. He had another touchdown disallowed due to holding by the O-line to Hey-Bey too. He had a great pass to Antonio Brown for 51 yards. The ball was rushed 22 times for 94 yards. Not quite the 142 yards that the ball was rushed against Arizona. Something else to remember here is that this was against New England. A team that has been in the contention for a Super Bowl run for every season for the last decade. This showed promise. Jones was attempting more than just being a manager. And this means that an optimist (something I do try to be) could see this as a glimmer of hope. There were times when I thought that the Steelers could conceivably win that game. That was not something I was thinking when the schedule was revealed back when Ben was healthy.
All in all, backup quarterbacks do well in the Steel City due to the run game - and that isn't going to change with Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the roster. However, what could bring some change is this potential in Jones. I know he has a 'noodle arm' as some commenters have expressed - I understand that. But maybe, just maybe, in his three losses starting, he was caught having a bad day. And maybe - even with a backup starting, the Steelers can ride into the playoffs. And that's before you even consider the possibility of Big Ben being back sooner than expected.