By Scott Brown
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The comparisons with Eli Manning have been inevitable since the two quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Comparisons with the other, and often otherworldly, Manning -- well, that would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago.
But Ben Roethlisberger's transcendent play has turned the Steelers into Super Bowl contenders and thrust him into the discussion of determining the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.
Truth be told, it might be a bit of a disservice to Roethlisberger to compare him to Peyton Manning right now. That is how well he is playing.
His passer rating is second only to Tom Brady, and it doesn't fully reflect the impact Roethlisberger has also made with his legs in leading the Steelers to a 7-2 start.
"There's probably only one guy playing better than him right now, and that would be Tom Brady," ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge said. "If he can continue to build on that and builds it all the way up to the (Steelers' Dec. 9 game against the) Patriots, and they can beat the Patriots, I think he's got a chance to win MVP of the league."
Brady appears to have a hammerlock on the award that only one Steelers player (Terry Bradshaw in 1978) has won in the modern era. But Roethlisberger has injected himself into that discourse after throwing five touchdown passes Nov. 5 against the Baltimore Ravens and leading the Steelers back from an 11-point halftime deficit Sunday in a 31-28 win over the Cleveland Browns.
When asked after he accounted for all three of the Steelers' second-half touchdowns if he should be considered in the class of Brady and Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger said, "Maybe some day I'd like it if I feel I'm up there with them."
That day may already be here.
"All I ever hear about is Peyton and Brady," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "(Roethlisberger) makes plays that those guys don't make, and that's what makes him so special."
While Brady and Manning pick teams apart from the pocket, Roethlisberger has differentiated himself from the two (and most other quarterbacks, for that matter) by tormenting defenses after he has gotten outside of the pocket.
His blend of size and athleticism and his pocket sense make the 6-foot-5, 241-pounder a master of escaping trouble, and Hoge said Roethlisberger and Dallas' Tony Romo possess a "rare" gift of being able to throw accurately while on the run.
The Browns discovered Sunday that Roethlisberger is also a threat when he tucks the ball and takes off.
He had a 30-yard touchdown run against Cleveland in the fourth quarter, and after the Browns had regained the lead, he scrambled for 10 yards on a third-and-9 play. That set up his game-winning, 2-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
In good company
Ben Roethlisberger ranks second to Tom Brady in passer rating. Here are the top five NFL quarterbacks in that category, as well as their key statistics:
The reasons for Roethlisberger's rise after he threw the most interceptions in the NFL in 2006 are almost as numerous as those 23 picks.
He didn't bring any psychological baggage into this season, and he has stayed healthy. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has given Roethlisberger, 25, a considerable ownership stake in the offense, and he has flourished in the increased role to which he has been entrusted.
Wide receiver Hines Ward said the biggest change he has seen in the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl: Roethlisberger is relying more on the players around him.
That, Ward said, is a sign of maturity.
"I think last season he put such an emphasis on trying to put the ball right between our numbers and sometimes stared guys down trying to make that perfect throw, and he didn't have to do that," Ward said. "Now, I think he's just trying to have fun and letting it go."
For Roethlisberger and the Steelers, it looks as if the fun is only beginning.