By Jeremy Hritz
Ron Jaworski recently finished his top 30 quarterback rankings in which Ben Roethlisberger was notched sixth, behind Eli Manning (5), Peyton Manning (4), Tom Brady (3), Drew Brees (2), and Aaron Rodgers. Jaworski’s comments about Roethlisberger were intriguing, especially when declared “[Ben is] on the cusp of becoming elite.”
On the cusp? Are you kidding me?
While there is no question that Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Peyton are definitely elite quarterbacks, Roethlisberger belongs in that category as well. Unfortunately, because his game does not fit the traditionalist definition of quarterback play of sitting in the pocket, pundits are hesitant to apply the elite label. What is being ignored here is that there is more than one way to play the quarterback position at an elite level. When it comes to Roethlisberger, his style of play is devalued and qualified as being good, but short of outstanding because it deviates from the accepted standard.
Earlier in the year I wrote about the debate that would occur regarding who was the better quarterback, Eli or Ben, but it seems clear that earlier on, the media is giving Eli the advantage. According to Jaworski, Eli shows “many of the attributes demanded to play at an elite level,” implying that Eli is elite and Roethlisberger is not.
Not that any of these rankings matter or have any impact on anybody’s play, but they do indicate the stereotypes that surround players, especially Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, for many years now, has been described as “big” and “strong,” or as Jaworski puts it, “barn strong,” which is accurate. He is also often described by analysts as a “backyard football player,” “who is at his best when the play breaks down.” Sadly, this type of quarterback play, though tremendously effective for Roethlisberger as it has resulted in his .708 career winning percentage, does not make one elite because it is unorthodox. Unless Roethlisberger statues up for an entire season, it is highly unlikely that he will ever get the praise that he truly deserves.
But think about it, how many passes have you seen Roethlisberger throw from the pocket that were razor-sharp accurate? Several. However, the 30-year-old quarterback with the 63.1% career completion percentage, 5% higher than Eli Manning, is not perceived as the “precise” quarterback that Eli and company are. Roethlisberger can do traditional, but why would he force a change that could potentially impact what has made him successful?
Roethlisberger is a player who is celebrated for attributes such as strength and toughness, which aren’t always indicators of quality quarterback play (see Tim Tebow). Even early in Roethlisberger’s career, he was dubbed a “game manager,” and never truly received the proper credit for his play. His success was either always the result of an effective running game or a strong defense. Now, as Big Ben enters his ninth season with two Super Bowl wins, three Super Bowl appearances, and ten playoff wins, he is only on the verge of being elite according to Jaworski.
Barring an enormous statistical season this year, Roethlisberger will continue to be underrated by the media, which I am sure he is fine with, as throughout his career, he has emphasized winning, regardless of how ugly it was. So for now, we’ll leave the elite tags for the Mannings, Brees, Brady, and Rodgers, and we’ll just settle for another Lombardi in 2012.