Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bills v. Steelers preview: The QB's

As the third and fourth quarterbacks selected in the 2004 draft, the careers of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall) and Bills QB J.P. Losman (22nd overall, Tulane) are ripe for comparison.

For his part, Losman has developed slowly but steadily during his three-plus seasons in the NFL, throwing for more than 3,000 yards in 2006 and finishing the season with a career best 84.9 passer rating. Last year Losman outperformed Roethlisberger in most statistical categories, including completion percentage, touchdown & interception percentage, and passer rating.

However, 2006 appears to have been an aberration for Big Ben, his play clearly hampered by the motorcycle accident-emergency appendectomy-concussion trifecta. In contrast, Roethlisberger started the 2007 season strong, throwing four TD passes and posting a 114.3 passer rating in a 34-7 win over the Browns. The national media continues to portray the Steelers as a run-first team, but the truth is that under Roethlisberger the Steelers pass to set up the run. In fact, the key to beating Pittsburgh is to limit Roethlisberger's effectiveness in the first half of games so the Steelers can't transition to a run-heavy offense in the second half. Roethlisberger is 19-0 in starts in which he has 21 or fewer attempts and has lost only three games in his career in which he has attempted 30 or fewer passes.

Other statistics also belie the national media's portrayal of Roethlisberger as a mere "game manager" or "system quarterback." Ben is 30-11 as a starter in the regular season (.732)--second only to Tom Brady (.747) among active QB's--and has won five of six post-season starts. Ben is not a dink-and-dunk passer either; during his first two years in the league he averaged a (Peyton) Manning-esque 8.9 yards per attempt and his career yards per attempt (8.2) ranks among the best in NFL history. Another unrecognized reason why Roethlisberger is so successful is that he rarely fumbles the ball (only 13 fumbles in 42 regular season games).

This Sunday the Steelers defense is likely to force Losman into committing a few turnovers, but the key to the game will be whether the Bills' banged-up defense can keep Roethlisberger under control.

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