Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Roethlisberger's underrated season

When Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger was named to the Pro Bowl earlier this season many sports media pundits questioned whether other AFC QB's like David Garrard (Jacksonville) or even Derek Anderson (Cleveland) would have been more deserving. Sorry folks, Roethlisberger is more deserving of a Pro Bowl berth than any other QB in the league, excepting Tom Brady, of course.

By way of comparison, Brady finished the regular season with 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions (117.2 passer rating). Roethlisberger threw 32 TD passes and only 11 interceptions (104.1 rating). Compare those numbers to those of Garrard (18 TD's, 3 INT's, 102.2 rating) and Anderson (29 TD's, 19 INT's, 82.5 rating). Then consider that Roethlisberger received some of the worst pass protection in the NFL. Big Ben was sacked a David Carr-like 47 times in only 404 pass attempts (one sack for every 8.6 attempts), while Garrard went down 21 times in 325 attempts (once every 15.4 attempts) and Anderson a mere 14 times in 527 attempts (once per 37.6 attempts).

It's also worth comparing Roethlisberger's numbers to other QB's who received inadequate protection. Only two other quarterbacks were sacked more than 37 times in 2007. Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia) was sacked 44 times in 473 attempts (once per 10.75 attempts) and posted an 89.9 passer rating, while Jon Kitna (Detroit) absorbed a league-high 51 sacks in 561 attempts (one sack per 11 attempts) and finished with an 80.9 rating.

Some might argue that Roethlisberger benefitted from a strong running game, as Pittsburgh's feature back, Willie Parker, gained more than 1,300 yards. Yet, Parker managed a relatively pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry (far below most of the league's other rushing leaders), and his impressive yardage total is mostly a function of his high number of carries. Meanwhile, Big Ben's receivers are hardly an impressive lot: Hines Ward may one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but at this point in his career, he's a move-the-chains type of possession receiver. And like Santonio Holmes (Pittsburgh's only legitimate down-the-field threat), Ward has not been able to stay healthy this year. Finally, tight end Heath Miller is a solid receiver, but rarely generates a big play.

The bottom line is that Roethlisberger has done more with less than any other QB in the league. If the Steelers somehow find a way to upgrade the talent around him, one can expect even better performances from Big Ben in coming seasons.

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