By Jeremy Hritz
Ben Roethlisberger is preparing for his 10th season in the NFL, and it is hard to believe that the young quarterback that took the league by storm in 2004 is now in the backend of his career.
With three Super Bowl appearances on his resume along with two trophies, there is no question Roethlisberger’s play has been solid during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, if anything has eluded him, it has been a monster season statistically, and a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.
In 2012, Roethlisberger was on pace for his best season number-wise ever with the Steelers since 2007 when he threw 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (though he did not throw for 4,000 yards). His greatest yardage output came in 2009, a season that the Steelers missed the playoffs, and he threw for 4,328 yards.
While statistics are not always indicative of wins or quality quarterback play, when looking at the so-called elite quarterbacks in Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Aaron Rodgers, all of whom have won both league and Super Bowl MVPs, they consistently put up 4,000 yard and 30+ touchdown passing seasons.
In arguments about which quarterbacks are considered in the upper echelon in the NFL, Roethlisberger’s name is always in the discussion, but it is always accompanied by a “yeah, but.” His play is characterized as gritty and tough, as opposed to accurate or surgical, terms normally reserved for Brady, Manning, and Rodgers. While he does not put up comparable statistics of the so-called elites, he has consistently shown that he can find a way to win the game with everything on the line (ok, maybe not in 2012).
The biggest difference between Roethlisberger and the other big name QBs is the talent surrounding him. Outside of Ben’s first two seasons, he has not enjoyed the protection of an effective offensive line, and honestly, after Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, he has not had a reliable running back to drive the running game. And when talking about wide receivers, the best that he has ever had was Hines Ward, hardly a speedster, but a player that was always open and that made splash plays consistently. Despite Mike Wallace’s speed, he is too unpredictable, and Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders only seem slightly above average. The biggest weapon that Ben currently has is Heath Miller, though his effectiveness after his knee injury has yet to be seen.
The bottom line is that Roethlisberger has created more success with less talented players than Brady, Manning, and Rodgers ever have, and that is something that has to be taken into consideration when discussing the elite quarterbacks of the NFL.
What is frightening is if the Steelers organization expects Roethlisberger to produce on offense next season with only Brown, Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery at wide receiver and Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman at running back. The sum of all those parts will be the most mediocre set of offensive weapons that Ben has ever had.
Without question, the Steelers need to give Roethlisberger a few playmakers if there is to be any offensive improvement in 2013. If no talent is added, it will be difficult to expect a record better than 8-8.
The last point I wanted to throw out in regards to Roethlisberger is the impact, if any, that Joe Flacco winning a championship and a Super Bowl MVP has had on him. As competitive as Roethlisberger is, it is difficult to believe that it is easy for him to accept a divisional quarterback that he has outshined for years stealing his spotlight by winning on the big stage and earning the MVP hardware that has escaped him. Will Roethlisberger’s drive be intensified next season to show that when it comes to the AFC North, he is the undisputed leader? The answer is certainly yes, but will he have the tools that he needs to bring another championship to Pittsburgh?