By Christopher DiMarino
For any of you that have read my work on Steelers Depot, you may know a few things about me. The one that relates to this article is how I like writing analysis pieces about articles on NFL.com. While I am a fan of football and a connoisseur of its subtle nuances, a better word to describe me is a critic. More accurately a hater. When I say hate, I don’t mean it in a derogatory manor but more as an art form. I just have passions about what players don’t do well. I also believe that consistency in play and playing to your “abilities” are underrated. As a result, I hate a lot of players in the NFL but I don’t view this as a bias because I am always open to changing my opinion. I think that it creates a unique opportunity for players to win my affection.
Enough about me, the point is that in an article I read, Jason Smith (probably my least favorite NFL.com writer) ranked the top quarterbacks in the league. He put Eli Manning at the top, which is a little crazy, but he did earn it this past season. Tom Brady was second and Ben Roethlisberger was third. What? I think that’s a little high. You might think that this article is a odd coming from a Steelers fan, but my neutrality gives me perspective so I have to call it as I see it. I love Big Ben, but the cold truth is that he’s not a top 3 QB. Elite? Yes. Top 10? Yes. In fact I’d probably put him sixth, behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning (barring injury issues).
I should preface this madness by complimenting Ben. I think he is easily a Hall of Famer. I think he still has his best years ahead of him. He’s a warrior and has certain qualities (toughness, extending plays) that no other quarterbacks can mirror. But he doesn’t give defenses the fear some of these other guys like Rodgers do. I “hate” Rodgers and instantly shoved this article in the faces of my Packer friends. Would I trade Roethlisberger for Rodgers? Honestly, I wouldn’t but that doesn’t make Ben better than Rodgers. I think Rodgers excels because of his system and how he was groomed. You could’ve put Ben in that same system and it wouldn’t have mattered because he has a unique identity as a quarterback. But if you put Rodgers in a new system, he might not achieve the same level of performance.
This article kind of sparked a concern that I’ve been developing over the past few seasons. I’m not worried where Ben’s heart is, the guy is an elite competitor. But with two Super Bowl wins in the books and a flurry of past off-field issues, did his focus alter or identity change? The Super Bowl game against Green Bay Packers worried me. Ben didn’t look like typical Ben. I expect some erratic plays and to yell at the TV for him to get rid of the ball before he’s in a hospital, but my one blanket of comfort with him was that late in games, he just evolves. It happened in numerous big games in his first few years, but also in meaningless regular season battles. You know that near the end of a game, you can never count them out. I didn’t feel that confidence with him in that game.
I think playoff success depends a lot on a mixture of luck and confidence and the Packers had both in spades. To further corroborate this trend, the 2011 season was shockingly bereft of big comebacks. It in fact seemed to include many more nail biter wins over teams the Steelers should have steam rolled. The first close win was against the Indianapolis Colts and required 13 points in the fourth quarter. The touchdown came from the defense as Troy Polamalu returned a James Harrison forced fumble into the end zone. The next two close wins against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs saw Pittsburgh get shut out in both second halves. The last close win of the season was against the Cleveland Browns and the game winning touchdown was scored in the third quarter. All four of those teams should’ve been beat by much larger margins, and in all four games the offense was stagnant at the end of the game. I don’t want to make this seem like it’s all Roethlisberger’s fault but he is the poster boy of this offense. The close loss to the Houston Texans was even more indicative. The Steelers lost by 7 and that lead was established with 12 minutes left in the game. The Baltimore Ravens loss however was a little different as the Steelers rallied back for two fourth quarter touchdowns, but lost because they left the Ravens with too much time on the clock.
Getting in to Ben’s unique identity explains what I like about him. He is very hard for defenses to adjust to. I know that might sound like it contradicts what I said earlier so let me explain. You can setup a plan to fundamentally stop Ben, but his ability to shed tacklers, extend plays and march the field when it counts are impossible to prepare for. He is a master of the intangibles. That also gives him more potential which is a good thing for a guy in his (very early) 30’s. So while I would rate him as the sixth best QB in the league in terms of beating defenses and physical ability, when you consider toughness, determination and how clutch he is, maybe he should be third.