Prime Nine: Best Year For Ben Roethlisberger In 2012?

By Jeremy Hritz

With the egress of Bruce Arians and the addition of Todd Haley, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be lining up opening night against the Denver Broncos with a new offense that apparently is so complex that Ben Roethlisberger labeled it the Rosetta Stone. While nobody has ever accused Ben of being a rocket scientist, the seasoned veteran should not have any issues in assimilating the new playbook and its offensive philosophies. If anything, Roethlisberger is entering his prime as an NFL quarterback, and if history is a predictor of the future, it is that elite quarterbacks in their ninth season have a penchant for winning.

Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski has said that the prime age for quarterbacks is “around 29 or 30,” and that “it’s that perfect storm where your physical talent meets your mental talent and it all comes together.” NFL players normally reach their ninth season when they turn 30, as is the case with Roethlisberger who turned 30 this past March and is entering his ninth season.

When examining the statistics of quarterbacks from their ninth season who either are already in the Hall of Fame or are first ballot Hall of Famers, there is a pattern of success. In this article, the following ten quarterbacks were analyzed: Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Drew Brees, John Elway, Brett Favre, Jim Kelly, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and Warren Moon (Tom Brady was omitted because he missed his ninth season due to injury) The table below lays out the most important statistical categories for these quarterbacks.

Current/Future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in Ninth Season

Quarterback Cmp Att. % Yards TDs INTs Sck Rate Year W L Season Outcome
Brett Favre 341 595 57.3 4,091 22 23 35 74.7 1999 8 8 Missed Playoffs
Dan Marino 318 549 57.9 3,970 25 13 27 85.8 1991 8 8 Missed Playoffs
Drew Brees 363 514 70.6 4,388 34 11 20 109.6 2009 13 3 **Won Super Bowl
Jim Kelly 285 448 63.6 3,114 22 17 34 84.6 1994 7 7 Missed Playoffs
Joe Montana 266 398 66.8 3,054 31 13 22 102.1 1987 13 2 *Lost NFC Div.
John Elway 242 451 53.7 3,253 13 12 45 75.4 1991 12 4 *Lost AFC Champ
Peyton Manning 362 557 65 4,397 31 9 14 101 2006 12 4 **Won Super Bowl
Terry Bradshaw 207 368 56.3 2,915 28 20 21 84.7 1978 14 2 **Won Super Bowl
Troy Aikman 292 518 56.4 3,283 19 12 33 78 1997 6 10 Missed Playoffs
Warren Moon 224 346 64.7 2,521 18 12 16 89.3 1992 10 6 *Lost AFC Wildcard
AVERAGES 290 474 61.23 3,499 24.3 14.2 26.7 88.52 N/A 10.3 5.4
Roethlisberger AVG 261 414 63 3322 20 12 39 92 N/A N/A N/A

The most salient point revealed through this information is the success experienced by these quarterbacks in regards to their winning games. Of the ten listed, six made the playoffs and three won Super Bowls (Brees, Manning, and Bradshaw). Overall, these quarterbacks averaged ten wins and five losses. Considering how difficult it is to win a Super Bowl, it is significant that three Hall of Famers (current, future) won a championship in their ninth season.

In comparison to the passing numbers that are achieved in today’s game, the season nine averages are not exactly impressive. Of the ten quarterbacks on the list, only three of them posted quarterback ratings of 100 or higher, and only five threw for 25 or more touchdowns. For comparative purposes, in 2011, four quarterbacks posted a rating of 100 or higher, while nine quarterbacks threw for 25 or more touchdowns. This could possibly lend credence to the reliability of the quarterback rating (On average, from 2000 to 2011, an average of 2 quarterbacks achieved a quarterback rating of 100 or higher). How does Roethlisberger stack up when comparing his career averages to ninth year averages of the analyzed Hall of Famers? He is below the average in completions, attempts, yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions, while in the categories of completion percentage, sacks, and quarterback rating, he is above the average.

Statistically, the ninth seasons of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks do not appear as earth shattering in comparison of today’s QBs. However, the context of the time period in which they played must be considered for an accurate picture. The most telling aspect of this data is consistency of winning and winning the big game in season nine.

There are many reasons to feel optimistic about Roethlisberger heading into his ninth season at the ripe age of the 30. Firstly, he has yet to put up a statistically explosive year similar to that of a Brady, who threw for 50 touchdowns at 30 years of age, Manning, or Brees. Roethlisberger’s best numerical season occurred in Coach Mike Tomlin’s first season, 2007, when he threw for 32 touchdowns and a 104 quarterback rating (2007 was also Arians first year as offensive coordinator). Passing yards and quarterback rating are not everything, but they are indicators of quality play and they are correlated with scoring points. With weapons plentiful, and with an offensive guru in Haley, Roethlisberger could put up big numbers this season.

It also cannot be overlooked that Roethlisberger will be taking snaps behind what could be the best offensive line he has had since his first two seasons. Keeping him upright and on his feet will go a long way in making the offense adept at accumulating yardage, and consequently, points. Additionally, a better offensive line will produce a better running game which will take pressure off of Roethlisberger to carry the offense.

Roethlisberger experienced tremendous success as a young player in the league, yet he still has room for improvement. His value to the Steelers is unquantifiable, and with him in the lineup, the chances for victory are great. With eight seasons notched on his belt, his veteran awareness make 2012 a season in which he can elevate his play and the play of the team to new heights. Hopefully Roethlisberger, like his predecessor Bradshaw in his ninth season, can bring another championship to Pittsburgh.

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