The Way Ben Were


by John Cihon

The following is an article I wrote after the Steelers first loss to Baltimore last year. As some may remember, there were a sizable number of fans calling for Ben Roethlisberger to be benched around this time.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I write this I’m listening to Pharrell, still-reeling from the Steelers absolute embarrassment at the at the hands of the Ravens on Sunday, and drunk off my current drink of choice: a vodka martini with a little bit of gin in it and two slices of lemon in place of the olive. I was watching the Thursday night Ravens-Bengals game, but I’ve lost interest in it (although it’s still on in the background). It’s hard to reconcile the way the Ravens owned the Steelers on Sunday with their underwhelming performance tonight.

But the reason I’m here tonight is to analyze the state of the black and gold nation, and to paraphrase the Bard, something is rotten in the state of Pittsburgh. But Ben Roethlisberger isn’t it at the moment, and I want to defend him from the fans who have been calling for his benching in favor of Charlie Batch this season.

The same fans calling for Ben to be benched right now are largely the same fans that cheered him ecstatically in 2004 and 2005. Let’s recap Ben’s accomplishments to put the current situation in perspective. In his first season in the NFL, he won thirteen regular season games (that’s every one that he played in) and was selected unanimously by the Associated Press as The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the first quarterback in thirty-four years to be so honored. In his second season, the Steelers became the first sixth seed team to make it to a conference championship, win that championship, and then win the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. I realize that almost everyone reading this is familiar with these facts, but they bear repeating, if only to show you what Pittsburgh’s quarterback has done in the past. After the Super Bowl, the coaching staff and the Rooneys viewed Ben as a franchise quarterback that they could build a team around for the next ten years or so.

And despite the accident and his relatively disappointing play this season, I believe that Ben Roethlisberger still is a franchise quarterback. Charlie Batch isn’t. Batch has a great history, breaking almost every passing record in college at Eastern Michigan University. Charlie Batch also is the sixth on the all time passing list for the Detroit Lions. Batch is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the best back-up quarterbacks in the NFL, but he’s still a back-up. Batch hasn’t ever demonstrated the mobility that Big Ben exhibits, and at thirty-two, retirement is looming over Batch’s shoulder. He knows this and the Steelers do as well. Batch might retire this year, maybe a year or two after that, but it’s coming soon, anything past thirty is pretty ancient in the NFL. If Batch plays more often than a backup position requires, the wear and tear of the game will doubtless catch up with him and shorten his career all the more. And Batch seems to be relatively satisfied with his position, as he hasn’t attempted to seek out a starting quarterback position anywhere else.

Let’s say the Steelers did start Charlie for every remaining game this season, and by some miracle, the Steelers win every one of them. The problem with that is that you still don’t get into the playoffs, and now the Steelers have in Batch a starting quarterback who needs to be replaced almost immediately, and Ben probably goes to another team as soon as his contract is up since he didn’t get the play time he wanted after everything he’s done for the organization. Thus, a year or two down the line; the Steelers have no suitable quarterback. Playing time for Ben also represents an opportunity to get better. Most NFL teams train quarterbacks for several years before they’re advanced to starting status, and Ben by necessity never had the benefit of time to learn the Steelers system. It only makes sense that he’ll have a few hiccups in his career, especially now that Jerome Bettis is gone and the offensive line is the weakest it’s been in Roethlisberger’s time with the Steelers. The Steelers also started the season relying much more heavily on Ben than they did in the past. When Ben came in, the mandate to him was to not lose the game for the Steelers, now the team has asked him to win the game. I think he has the capability to do that, but it will take time. Let him play to get the experience, even if it results in a few bad games or a bad season. It should be worth it in the long run in order to help build a franchise quarterback.

Speaking of the weak offensive line, very little of the debacle from last Sunday can be blamed on Roethlisberger, because when you get sacked nine times (only eight counted due to a penalty, but I’m sure Ben felt all nine of them), it’s all on the offense. Charlie Batch isn’t any more mobile than Ben, I’m sure he would have been sacked too. As a matter of fact, go ahead and put any quarterback you want into that game for the Steelers, be it Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or even an-all time great like Dan Marino or Terry Bradshaw, and they’ll get sacked eight times too, because the offense simply let Ben down. But Ben wanted to be there, and he deserves a chance after the past two seasons. Stay in there with him.