In the sporting world, we, as fans, are always desperate to label players based on their reputations. A player like Tim Tebow is a “winner” in some people’s eyes while another section of fans will say that Tony Romo is a “loser.” Each label is typically constant and doesn’t waiver until later in a player’s career when he physically begins to decline. Rarely is the consistency of a player’s reputation challenged solely based on his ability to play the game. San Diego Chargers‘ quarterback Philip Rivers is a great example of that, as many still believe that he is an elite signal-caller despite having two horrible seasons in a row.
Rivers has had a much publicized and debated decline, but another quarterback from the 2004 draft class has also notably declined over the past two seasons without the fanfare. Something that is surprising considering that Ben Roethlisberger plays for one of the most reputable teams in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has a polarizing past that makes him media fodder.
Since failing to lead a game-winning drive in the dying moments of the 2010 Super Bowl, very little has gone to plan for Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger’s elite reputation is built on being a two-time Super Bowl champion, who has carried his offense to more than respectable levels of production in the regular season while also being one of the most reliable quarterbacks in clutch situations. That hasn’t been the case this past two seasons.
In Bruce Arians’ offense, Roethlisberger had a decidedly average season in 2011. He started 15 games, completed 63.2 percent of his passes for over 4,000 yards, 21 touchdowns and 19 total turnovers. The Steelers limped into the playoffs as a wildcard team despite having the number one pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. In 2011, they finished 12-4, but benefited largely from a soft schedule and lost against three playoff teams(twice to the Baltimore Ravens). He did give his team a lead late against the Ravens at home, but scored just 20 points in the team’s other three losses. The Steelers made Arians somewhat of a scapegoat for the offense’s failings last year, when they fired him(or tried to force him to retire as it appears) much to Roethlisberger’s displeasure.
Following last season, a season when Roethlisberger dealt with a serious ankle injury, the Steelers brought in Todd Haley to limit Roethlisberger’s exposure to hits and run a more rigid offense. Yet, as can be the case in football, Roethlisberger missed more games through injury this year than last. A hit against the Kansas City Chiefs caused him to miss three games. Not only that, but Roethlisberger never bought into the new system. He struggled all season long to really make a positive impact on games and his statistics obviously fell. Entering Week 17, an irrelevant weekend of football for the already eliminated Steelers team, Roethlisberger has completed 63.1 percent of his passes, slightly down from last season despite the easier degree of passes on the whole, for just over 3,000 yards 23 touchdowns and 11 turnovers. His touchdown to interception ratio is improved over last season significantly, but that is largely a result of the controlled offensive approach from Haley.
Roethlisberger did play excellent football at times early on in the season, but boosted his statistics by feasting on less talented defenses such as those of the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins. His statistical season isn’t overwhelmingly amazing or overly damning, but Roethlisberger’s reputation has always reflected his ability to win games opposed to his overall level of production. This year the Steelers have lost eight games entering Week 17, but two of those losses came with Roethlisberger out of the lineup, while his offense averaged 24.3 points per game during the first three losses of the year prior to his injury against the Chiefs.
Without Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch played an outstanding game against the Ravens to keep the Steelers’ playoff chances alive, but once Roethlisberger returned the Steelers lost three games in a row. Roethlisberger played a hand in those losses also. He doesn’t appear to be feeling the effects of his injury physically, but Roethlisberger hasn’t imposed himself on any game since his return. Twenty-four points in a loss to the San Diego Chargers seems admirable, but his three touchdown performance benefited from garbage time and also included an interception to go along with a backwards pass touchdown for the Chargers on a blown screen. Following that he threw a game sealing interception in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys and the decisive interceptions against the Cincinnati Bengals on a day that the Steelers would have won the game by simply not turning the ball over.
After the Cowboys game, Roethlisberger hung his play-caller out to dry and his attitude throughout this season hasn’t appeared to be one of a player who has ever really accepted his new offensive coordinator. For a franchise quarterback, not least an elite quarterback, that kind of approach is not acceptable. It’s solely based on perception, but compared to previous seasons, Roethlisberger hasn’t been in complete support of his coaching staff. There hasn’t been an open rift, but neither has there been the camaraderie or commitment that was typical of Roethlisberger with Bruce Arians.
Roethlisberger has never been elite based on his statistical output, but lately his performance on the field has been limited to that of an above average player at best. It’s very difficult to argue that Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback right now, even if he is eventually considered a hall-of-famer once he retires.