After watching the Pittsburgh Steelers squeak by the Philadelphia Eagles, 16-14, on Sunday afternoon, I was reminded of something one league executive told me prior to the start of the season:
At first thought, it seems odd to say a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback is underrated, but I'm starting to buy into this theory. Sunday was a great example of how Big Ben just doesn't get enough credit for his play. His stat line was very ordinary: 21-for-37 for 207 yards and no touchdowns. When you look at those numbers without watching the game, it's hard to appreciate just how well Roethlisberger played.
1) Buying time in the pocket. This Steelers offensive line is very average; Roethlisberger bails this unit out repeatedly. In Sunday's game, there were numerous times when Pittsburgh's offensive tackles were beat cleanly off the edge, but Big Ben was able to climb up in the pocket and get the ball out. When he had pressure up the middle, he side-stepped, pulled out of tackles or absorbed a hit while getting the ball out of his hand. The Eagles have a very deep and talented pass rush, but they didn't record a single sack.
2) Winning on third down. Roethlisberger showed why he's the NFL's best third-down quarterback during Pittsburgh's game-winning drive. He converted two third-down passes despite the Eagles pinning their ears back and attacking him. His ability to maintain poise, find the open man and deliver an accurate ball is uncanny. As a result of those key conversions, the Steelers not only kicked the game-clinching field goal, they also burned the final 6:33 off the game clock.
3) Protecting the ball. As the Eagles can attest, successful quarterbacking isn't just about the plays you make, it's also about the mistakes you avoid. Michael Vick lost two crucial fumbles for the Eagles, while Roethlisberger didn't record a single turnover. In fact, he has turned the ball over just once this season (a pick in the opening loss to the Denver Broncos). Decision-making is the most important aspect of quarterback play; all the arm talent in the world isn't worth a thing if you don't know where to throw the football.
Having worked for two AFC North teams (the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns), I have a healthy respect for Roethlisberger's talent, but I'm not sure he gets the national attention he deserves. It seems like every time top-tier quarterbacks are discussed, Big Ben is overlooked. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and the Manning brothers are outstanding, but Roethlisberger absolutely deserves to be in their company.