Sunday, August 22, 2010

Analyzing Ben Roethlisberger's First Preseason Start

Was there a preseason start more ballyhooed than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's return? Everyone knows Roethlisberger's deal by now: sexually assaulted another girl at another bar, and now will be suspended for the first six games of the season (although it appears as if it will be shortened to four). Roethlisberger is not the best quarterback in the NFL, but he is definitely one of the five most capable and popular, playing as he does for a national team, i.e., SteelersNation. Seriously, Steelers fans are more dispersed throughout the country than the Corleone crime family after the Don dropped dead in his tomato plants.

This is about the eighth stupid thing Roethlisberger has done in the past five years, according to my calculations, but this is the first one that appears to have a significant impact on the field. Roethlisberger almost died in a motorcycle accident, but he did not really miss any time for it (one could argue, of course, that it did have an impact, contributing to mental and physical lapses, but that is mere speculation).

Roethlisberger is probably the most infuriating athlete I have ever seen. Yet I love him as a quarterback, and I wouldn't have anyone else. He does many dumb and reckless things off the field, as well as on. Last year, for example, he led the NFL in near interceptions. His refusal to throw away the ball allowed him to get sacked 50 times last season. On the opening game of last season, on NBC, he was sacked for a 19 yard loss because he was trying to make a play. But that is what Steeler fans love about Roethlisberger, his ability to make plays. You lose his mobility when Byron Leftwich is playing quarterback. You lose his pure passing ability when Dennis Dixon is in the game.

The love affair between Steelers fans and Big Ben can only be comparable to the latest season of Jersey Shore. In every episode this season, Sammi's on and off boyfriend Ronnie cheats on her at the club, then comes home to snuggle with Sammi as if nothing happened. Lately, it has been the Steelers fans who are Sammi. Roethlisberger goes out and does all these horrific things (motorcycle incident, still does not ride with a helmet, two speculated sexual assaults) and still comes home to Heinz field as if nothing happened. Last NFL Draft, I was so mad at Roethlisberger I was practically begging for a trade. After seeing Roethlisberger last night, I realized Jimmy Clausen has nothing on Roethlisberger. I want to hate Roethlisberger, but then I see him play, the winner of two Super Bowls. I am so conflicted. I am sure my dad is real proud I compared him and his childhood team to a show that he despises.

I do not really agree with how the Steelers are dealing with this whole quarterback situation, and I will get to that in a moment. Here is how Roethlisberger's three drives went last night against the Giants:

First Drive:

To no one's surprise, the always predictable Bruce Arians picked a running play first. In my years as a Steelers fan, I think I have seen the Steelers throw on first down about six times.

Play action pass to favorite target Heath Miller for a gain of eight and a first down. Roethlisberger sells that play action better than any quarterback in the NFL, probably because the defense assumes Pittsburgh is going to run every time. Usually they are correct.

Another pass to Heath Miller goes 12 yards and another first down. Roethlisberger looked his usual mobile self in the pocket, pump faking at least five times before throwing the football.

After two failed running plays which included a 13 yard loss on a Randle El end around (Which looked like it was going to be a pass) sets up a 3 & 21 for Roethlisberger. An eight yard pass to Mendenhall is not enough for the first down, and the Steelers are forced to punt.

On the Drive: 3-3, 28 yards.

Second Drive:

Feels pressure from the four unblocked Giants who I can only assume the Steelers offensive line forgot to block. Ben somehows dodges them all, and lobs up a classic Big Ben pass to Mike Wallace. You know, the one where he somehow manages to dodge the entire defense and throws up a prayer that is somehow caught. Only this time, it was caught by Corey Webster, who plays for the Giants. This looked like the end to every one of the Steelers seven losses last season.

So far: 3-4, 28 yard, 1 INT

Third Drive:

Big Ben comes back to life in the third drive, with a vintage Big Ben passing sequence. He does three pump fakes, has enough composure to stay in the pocket, and rifles one to Matt Spaeth for a gain of 18.

After a few running plays and a hold by Flozell Adams (Who has done everything in his power not to impress anyone at Steelers camp), Ben throws a 12 yard strike to Heath Miller while once again dodging the entire Giant defensive line.

Right after this, Ben throws a laser to Antwaan Randel El for a first down, a gain of 17 to put the Steelers inside the Giants ten.

After Roethlisberger was sacked, the Steelers were faced with a 3rd and goal situation. A fade to Hines Ward in the end zone fell incomplete, and the two looked really out of a sync. The ball landed ten yards away from Ward, and Ward had not even looked up for the ball by the time the ball reached the ground.

Big Ben finished at: 6-8, 76 yards, 1 INT, 1 sack.

Roethlisberger, I thought, looked pretty good. Take away the interception that was forced by the Steelers inability to block for longer than two seconds, and Roethlisberger had himself a pretty good game. He looked even more mobile than usual and was throwing strikes up and down the field. This gave me confidence for when he comes back, that he will be okay and not too rusty. As long as he practices with the team. All that being said, I feel as if the Steelers are all wrong with the quarterback situation. Ben had no right starting this game. Let me tell you what the Steelers should be doing:

1) It is much more important that Leftwich and Dixon get reps with the first team than Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has played years with that team and knows everyone well. The line, running backs and receivers barely know Dixon and Leftwich's tendancies in a game. Ben should not have started this game, as it is much more important that Dixon and Leftwich get reps against better defenses and play with better players. Ben already knows what to do in these situations, the other two, especially Dixon, are going to have some trouble. Ben should not have started at least until the next preseason game. His starting just got in the way of what should have been an even evalutation of the other two quarterbacks. This did not happen.

2) Dennis Dixon needs reps against better defenses.

Putting Dixon in for the whole second half is not doing him any good. Sure he is getting reps, but not against the quality he needs. This is a guy who may have the lead on Leftwich for starter come Week 1. It is doing him and the team no good having him play the third and fourth quarter against the T.C. Williams High Titans. If you really want to evaluate Dixon and Leftwich, have them play against nearly the same competition. Which brings us to...

3) Choose the starter after the third game.

The team needs to know how they are going to attack the first four to six games of the season without Big Ben. Putting them in a state of limbo is doing them no good. Now, this option seems even more difficult because the last preseason game was essentially an evaluational waste. But the team needs to know what they are doing. Have Dixon play the first quarter and Leftwich the second in the next game. Ignore Roethlisberger for the first half, because he is not in the running. Tomlin screwed up the quarterback situation so far, but can still make it up.

Roethlisberger does not need to start any more of these games. They are useless, just send him in for a series if it is really that necessary for him to play. He looked fine last night, and the Steelers are just hampering their beginning of the season by messing up the quarterback situation in the pre-season.

Random Notes and Thoughts from Saturday Nights game:

Carl Banks really is making a strong case for worst color commentator alive.

Good to see Daniel Sepulveda back. The punting situation was brutal last season, and really showed how invaluable Sepulaveda is.

The Hakeem Nicks-Ike Taylor fight was awesome for a few reasons. Ike Taylor may be a crappy cornerback, but he threw a devestating underhook to Nicks' chin, really the only way you can punch a man with a helmet on. I spent most of the fight praying Nicks of all people wouldn't get hurt, because he is LRB's second receiver.

Have you ever seen somebody get ejected from an NFL game for actions on the field? I cannot remember the last time I saw this. I remember Joey Porter once got ejected before a game, but I do not remember somebody actually be thrown out for something they did on the field.

Hard to say who won the quarterback battle last night. Leftwich had a gorgeous pass to Mike Wallace for a long touchdown, but Dixon was more accuarate and had an impact with his feet. This probably was a draw, but if a gun was to my head, I would have to go with Dixon. Then again, Leftwich was facing better competition. Damn it Mike Tomlin! This is no way to judge quarterbacks.

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