Monday Evening Quarterback - September 17, 2007
See, Set, Throw
Extrapolate Ben Roethlisberger's statistics after two games and you end up with the type of stats that win championships: 3,224 yards passing, with 40 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions.
They're great numbers, especially for a guy who struggled at times during a very forgettable 2006 season. Roethlisberger has directed the offense to 60 points in its first two games, dominant team performances that hearken back to the heady early portion of 2005, when the Steelers blew out the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans on their way to their 5th Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, like those easy wins two years ago, the competition in the first two games cannot be projected across the course of a year - better teams and better defenses lie along the horizon, and there is much room for improvement in Roethlisberger's game, improvements that are necessary for "big" success.
During his career, Roethlisberger has been extremely effective when plays break down - his ability to improvise both with his arm and with his feet is second to none in the NFL.
From scrambling (head first) for a first down on 3rd and 10 to making throws after escaping the inescapable, Roethlisberger made plays against Buffalo that most quarterbacks won't make. He's headstrong in the face of the pass rush to his own physical detriment.
Against the likes of Cleveland and Buffalo, this is a recipe for success. Against teams like Baltimore and New England, teams with elite athletes among the front 7 who can close the deal, it's a recipe for failure and/or injury.
Even against a mediocre defense like the Buffalo Bills, Roethlisberger's freelancing ways don't translate well in red zone situations.
There's less space for his receivers to maneuver in, and the throws he makes become more and more dangerous, especially when teams read run or pass and drop back into zone defenses intended to clog up the passing lanes. Additionally, Ben's mechanics sometimes break down when he tries to make plays outside of their original design. The short-hopped pass in the flat to Dan Kreider was a perfect example - if he simply sets his feet, that's a touchdown, or at least a first down.
Add some pressure into the mix of bad mechanics, and a blowout in which the offense moves freely up and down the field quickly becomes a field goal festival, 3 yards and a cloud of dust philosophy or not.
In these situations (and against great defenses like the Ravens), Roethlisberger needs to trust his reads, trust his receivers and get the ball out on time, in rhythm.
With the way his receivers are playing, this shouldn't be much of a problem, and there's evidence that he's imminently capable of simply dropping back, making the correct read and delivering the ball on time.
On the first series of the game, every ball he threw was out on time except the pass he threw to Heath Miller under duress to end the drive and bring on the field goal unit. The only other time on the drive where he wasn’t on-time was when he wisely chose to run on 3rd and 11, good for the first down.
Perhaps he benefits from the scripting and the confidence that comes along with it on early drives like that one, but there were other times in the game when he went right back to “good” Ben, throwing in rhythm.
When the Steelers went to the no-huddle going into the half, Ben was incredibly competent, getting the ball out on time to the correct receiver in an accurate fashion that allowed the receivers to gain yards after the catch.
From under center in normal situations, Ben almost prefers to simulate the shotgun by skipping his primary read and taking a shotgun-like drop while pursued by the other team. The question is, does this habit come from a lack of protection, a love for improvisation or being a quarterback who makes slow reads?
In my opinion, it's a little bit of all three.
Ben was only sacked once yesterday. How many times would Tommy Maddox have been sacked with the same quality of protection?
Like a kid who can do a flip off of the high dive, Ben has a good bit of ego when it comes to making plays after they break down. At one time, this was a bonus in the repertoire of a very good quarterback. When he forces things all the time, it leads to a 23 interception season.
Ben isn't the quickest read out there. But he's still very young, and he's been saddled with a paleolithic passing philosophy for much of his NFL career. He still has a ways to go.
Whatever the reason, Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and quarterback coach Ken Anderson need to spend the majority of their time getting Roethlisberger back to being a quarterback, not a superhero.
The Fine Five
1. New England
If the Patriots continue to struggle running the ball, maybe there is room for Randy Moss and Wes "Wayne" Welker on the same team. The Patriots got their yards on the ground last night - especially with Sammy Morris - but their bread and butter is the passing game. They're not going to overpower anyone when the weather turns cold and moist.
2. Indianapolis Colts
I'll be a believer in the Colts' defense when their offense doesn't give them a lead to play with. The Titans actually had a good deal of success running the ball with LenDale White yesterday.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Why not? The Steelers have looked as impressive as any other team, despite their supposedly "inferior" competition. In reality, the opponents' winning percentage through two games for the Steelers, Colts and Patriots is the same: .250%. The Colts' win over New Orleans doesn't look so impressive anymore after what the Bucs did to the Saints, and the Patriots' pasting of the Jets wasn't impressive in the first place: New York/New Jersey's best team this year might be the Buffalo Bills.
4. Denver Broncos
2-0 by the slimmest of margins. Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley might be the best WR trio in the league, and Cutler is spreading the ball around nicely.
5. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo is a little goofy, and his botched field goal snap in the playoffs last year will be remembered for a long time, but he's got "it" as a quarterback. He makes plays that win games. Marion Barber III has likely kicked Julius Jones to the curb for good.
Quote of the Week
"They had to hide his helmet so he couldn't get back out there on the field. If he would have had his helmet, there's no question he would have tried to sneak past the trainers."
- Clark Haggans on James Harrison, who should have played in the tough-guy NFL of the 50's and 60's.
In other news, General Petraeus has proposed a new plan for Iraq - send in Silverback.
The Awards Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Willie Parker. Not many NFL players would have participated in the week long self-flagellation that FWP endured at his own hands last week. Parker ran hard, ran smart and ran wild, rushing for 126 yards on 23 carries, and scored the game's final touchdown.
Defensive Player of the Week
James Farrior. 8 tackles and 2 assists. Marshawn Lynch started off by having some success. Farrior had a large hand in stopping that downward trend. Farrior might be the most underrated player in the NFL.
Special Teams Player of the Week
None. Jeff Reed is supposed to make field goals under 40 yards, and his kickoffs were once again terrible.
Daniel Sepulveda punted once and made it count, but that's not STPOTW worthy.
Allen Rossum caught the ball. Once again, that's expected despite the 2006 season.
The coverage teams gave up two long kickoff returns.
Last week, I suggested that Bob Ligashesky buy a house in Pittsburgh after dooming him to renting in the preseason. Now, I'm thinking he's best off in a hotel - same transient ease as a rental, but the would-be vandals don't know your address. The Steelers will give up a return touchdown sooner than later.
Coach of the Week
Dick Lebeau. He kept it vanilla and it completely caught Buffalo off-guard. He trusted his charges to play sound, fundamental football with more physical intensity than the Bills could match.
Goat of the Week
Jim McNally. Not because I think he's a bad coach, but because he allowed the acquisitions of Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker to happen.
Stat of the Week
Willie Parker averages 103.8 yards per game in September, and 73.8 yards per game the rest of the year.
Factoid of the Week That I Hope Interests Someone Besides Me
The Buffalo Bills employ a “Little Person” as a trainer. Being height-challenged could be quite an advantage for a trainer on game day, making it easier to attend to players lying on the ground.
Unfortunately, I cannot find the man’s name anywhere on the Internet. Shame on the Buffalo Bills for not giving a little publicity to the workaday folks who make an NFL franchise go. Kudos to the Steelers for not being so short-sighted. http://news.steelers.com/team/frontoffice/
Ten Things I Know I Think
1. Carey Davis showed his worth on Willie Parker’s 21 yard run on the first drive of the game. He seals Angelo Crowell on the edge, giving Parker plenty of room to turn the corner. Dan Kreider would have never made that block.
2. Brian Moorman’s first punt of the game was clearly headed out of bounds, but some Steelers were somewhat close to where the ball was about to bounce. I could audibly hear Allen Rossum yelling “watch out!” over the television. Rossum hasn’t done much more than catch the football. For now, that’s enough.
3. A lot has been made about Wes Welker not getting a penalty for spiking the ball after a first down catch during the Patriots/Chargers game last night. Well, Willie Parker did the same thing after running over Jim Leonhard on the 3rd offensive series of the game, an 11 yard run on 1st and 10. He also did not receive a penalty. This is one rule that needs to be enforced or put in the shed.
4. I didn’t mind Ben’s pick at all. Jim Leohard simply made a great play. Instead of biting on the pump fake, he keyed on it and immediately reversed field. Ko Simpson would not have made that play.
5. The loudest peep heard from Lee Evans all day was when he got the penalty for intimidating the ref. Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend have both played near-flawless football so far this year, and the Ryan Clark/Anthony Smith platoon at FS is giving the Pittsburgh defense the best of both worlds.
(Around the League)
6. So much for those Carolina Panthers I spent a paragraph lauding last week. Good teams do not give up 14 point leads to the Houston Texans, though Andre Johnson is quietly becoming the best wide receiver in the league now that he has competent quarterbacking. Among 20 Matt Schaub completions, 7 went to Johnson and only one went to another wide receiver.
7. What a wonderful ballgame they played in Cleveland. Lebron James had 31 points and 10 assists for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Nick van Exel had 17 points and 15 assists for the Cincinnati Bearcats in a low scoring game won by the home team, 51-45.
8. Jacksonville doesn’t scare me in the least this year. Despite possessing a still dominant defense (7 sacks), the Jaguars are getting no production from Maurice Jones-Drew. Dennis Northcutt has developed into their number one “receiving” option. Marcus Stroud and John Henderson and going to be gassed for the year by Halloween.
9. Remember how Jon Kitna wrote that letter in the preseason, imploring fantasy owners not to pick him? Well, it wasn’t about you, Jon. It was about Detroit’s lack of a running game and having Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Kitna and backup J.T. O’Sullivan combined for 393 yards passing, while lead back Tatum Bell had 13 yards on 9 carries.
10. St. Louis, once a hot pick as an NFC sleeper, can officially be buried. Orlando Pace’s injury has hamstrung that team. Stephen Jackson once again had no running room, and Marc Bulger was sacked 6 times. Bulger will be hard-pressed to hold up under constant duress – he’s never been very durable. If he’s smart, he’ll find a way to miss the October 14th match up with the Ravens.
What I Like Tonight, and I Don’t Mean the Eagle’s Fight Song, Unless John Ashcroft Sings It
Fly, Eagles fly, on the road to victory!
Fight, Eagles, fight, score a touchdown one-two-three!
Hit 'em low, hit 'em high,
And watch our Eagles fly!
Fly, Eagles fly, on the road to victory!
It’s actually a pretty good match up this evening. I’ll be looking for 39 fantasy points from Donovan McNabb and Santana Moss, but barring that miracle I think it will be a big night for Jason Campbell. If Campbell is solid this year, the Redskins have a very good chance to make the playoffs.