View Full Version : Pulling chain of star QB like Big Ben full of risks

11-05-2006, 12:18 AM
Pulling chain of star QB like Big Ben full of risks
Sunday, November 05, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Lyrics to an old song by Jim Croce: You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger ...

And you don't mess around with your franchise quarterback.

Bill Cowher delivered that message Tuesday with one booming word and a long glare when he was asked if he thought of pulling Ben Roethlisberger from the game in Oakland last Sunday, or if he were on a shorter leash.


Roethlisberger, by virtue of his personal production and team accomplishments over the past two seasons, has joined a category of NFL quarterbacks who are virtually untouchable when it comes to benching them. That list would include Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger.

Yet it did not stop various news outlets, including this newspaper, from polling readers/listeners the past week as to whether Roethlisberger should be benched in favor of backup Charlie Batch.

Even Batch voted no on that one.

"You know what, if you're going to be the guy, you're the guy," Batch said. "You don't know how the course of the season is going to go. Of course, everybody wants to play 16 great games. That's just not going to happen. They get paid on the other side of the ball, too, and they have to make plays."

Whether to pull a quarterback for poor play and when to do it has been debated by coaches throughout history. Once established, many of the great ones went through the prime of their careers without anyone thinking of yanking them: Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Troy Aikman and John Elway, for example.

But there were others, such as Terry Bradshaw, who not only were yanked but temporarily lost their starting jobs after they established themselves. Bradshaw helped the Steelers to the playoffs in 1972 and 1973, but found himself benched early in 1974 in favor of, first Joe Gilliam and then Terry Hanratty, neither of whom had Hall of Fame credentials. It was Bradshaw's fifth season in the league and fifth as their starting quarterback.

What in the world was Chuck Noll thinking?

"He was thinking he wasn't getting the performance he wanted out of the quarterback position," said Dick Hoak, the Steelers' running backs coach back then as he is today. "He was trying different things to see what would work, and eventually it all came back to Bradshaw.

On the rebound

By definition when you are 28-9 as a starting quarterback in the NFL, there aren't many bad days. But when Ben Roethlisberger has had one, he has generally shown the ability to bounce back in big ways.

Dec. 5, 2004
After going just 9 for 20 for 131 yards in a 16-7 win vs. Washington the week before, he comes back to lead the Steelers on a 56-yard, six-play drive to set up Jeff Reed's winning FG in a 17-16 win over the Jaguars. He finishes 14 for 17 for 221 yards and two TDs and a passer rating of 158.0.

Dec. 18, 2004
After a sluggish 9-for-19, 2-INT game vs. the Jets, he throws for a career-high 316 yards in a 33-30 win vs. the Giants.

Dec. 4. 2005
After being part of the Monday night humiliation in Indianapolis in which he threw for only 133 yards, he throws for a career-high 386 yards and three TDs in a 38-31 shootout loss to Cincinnati.

January 2006
After staggering into the postseason off a 7-for-16, 2-INT game vs. the Lions, he turns around and goes 49 for 72 (68.1 percent) with seven TD passes as the Steelers win all three AFC playoff games en route to Super Bowl XL.

"Chuck just thought Terry may not have been progressing like he wanted and thought maybe he'd give Joe a shot."

Eventually, Noll went back to Bradshaw, and they went on to win a Super Bowl that season. Bradshaw would lead them to three more, two of them as the game's MVP, and make it into the Hall of Fame.

So, if Bradshaw can be pulled, why not Roethlisberger? Perhaps because Roethlisberger accomplished much more than Bradshaw in his first two seasons, establishing himself early. After 1974, the only time Noll pulled Bradshaw was when he was hurt.

"I think the guy earned the right, that he's the guy for the future," former Steelers quarterback Mark Malone said. "He's the youngest to ever win a Super Bowl, and his win-loss percentage was incredible coming into the season."

Malone knows about being replaced as a starter. He and David Woodley traded the job back and forth in 1984 and 1985.

"This is your guy," said Malone, now the sports director of WBBM-TV in Chicago. "His winning percentage was almost unbelievable. Now he's thrown a couple interceptions and you're 2-5, but some of it may have to do with other stuff he has no control over.

"You don't go from Super Bowl winner to throwing Charlie Batch in. You can really damage the kid's psyche. You know what, it kind of sends a signal to every fan out there -- this guy is nothing special. It doesn't make sense to me, it really doesn't."

That's what some think happened to Kordell Stewart, who was often yanked out of games or demoted. Others, though, believe if a quarterback isn't playing well, there's nothing wrong with pulling him. Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham often has expressed that opinion, as does former Steelers tackle Tunch Ilkin, now their broadcast analyst.

"I don't really care about the psyche of a quarterback," said Ilkin who played with what often became a revolving door of eight starting quarterbacks during his Steelers career.

"I would never not pull a quarterback because I'm worried he's going to be emotional. But, if a guy's capable of making plays and he's struggling and I believe he can still overcome it and make plays, I don't pull him. If a guy has that deer-in-the-headlights look like, 'Man, I don't know what's going on, I can't make a play today,' that's when I pull him."

Ilkin believes that's not the case with Roethlisberger.

"I haven't played with this kid, but just from what I know of him and what I see, I don't pull him during the game because in my mind, he's got a play in him.

"You don't pull Bradshaw after three picks, because you know he's going to make the big throw."


11-05-2006, 07:47 AM
I completely agree with playing Ben........if he healthy. The only way for him to work through rough patches is to let him play. All QB's are going to those rough patches and Ben has proven he's the real deal......not a fluke with some good players around him, (that's my opinion, for whatever it's worth). He's young and really still developing into his full potential and I think we have yet to see what he's really capable of. Look out NFL.......

The question here is whether he actually is healthy enough to play. He's been medically cleared so I fully expected Cohwer to play him. However, and this is the big question, with head injuries, how soon should they be letting any player back on the field? I really hate to see them experiment with our young, franchise QB. It seems they rushed him back tto soon. (there's no doubt in my mind we would have won in Oakland without Ben throwing the interceptions. I'm not blaming, just stating facts.........there were plentyof other mistakes made but I still think we would have pulled it off).

I would feel 100% better if Ben showed up with one of those concussion helmets on, at least.

11-05-2006, 08:23 AM
"You know what, if you're going to be the guy, you're the guy," Batch said. "You don't know how the course of the season is going to go. Of course, everybody wants to play 16 great games. That's just not going to happen. They get paid on the other side of the ball, too, and they have to make plays."

BINGO! :thumbsup:

While I do not advocate benching Ben, I see nothing at all wrong with putting Batch into a game when Ben is struggling to attempt to add a "spark". A coach's responsibility is to put the best team possible on that field every week and if your starting QB is clearly having issues on the field, what does a coach have to lose in trying something different to jump start the team and put some points on the board? A move like this doesn't mean at all that Ben is going to lose his starting position, no matter how well Batch plays. Ben has repeatedly said that he wants what is best for the team and if throwing the opposing D off by putting in Batch here and there when Ben is having problems jump-starts the O, I say DO IT!!! :tt02: