View Full Version : Steelers: Teams can't be 'two' careful

11-27-2011, 09:49 AM
Steelers: Teams can't be 'two' careful
No. 2 QBs like Tyler Palko can and do make or break seasons

Sunday, November 27, 2011
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It is, almost without argument, the most important position in team sports, more so than the point guard in basketball, the shortstop in baseball, the goaltender in hockey. In the world of the National Football League, starting quarterbacks have become more valued than ever before -- a treasured commodity needed not only to win, but survive, at the game's highest level.

Gone are the days when good running games and strong defenses carried a team to the Super Bowl. Now, teams are more reliant than ever on a quarterback, and those fortunate enough to have an elite one have been, not surprisingly, among the league's prosperous franchises.

For proof, all you have to do is consider the winning Super Bowl quarterbacks since 2003: Tom Brady (2), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

But, while those quarterbacks are harder to find than an original Monet, it has become increasingly more difficult to find a competent backup quarterback; someone who can step in because of injury without a drop in performance steeper than the Monongahela Incline.

Consider the most recent replacements starting for NFL teams because of injuries: Curtis Painter in Indianapolis, John Skelton in Arizona, Caleb Hanie in Chicago, Matt Leinart in Houston and Tyler Palko in Kansas City, who will make only his second NFL start when the Steelers (7-3) play the Chiefs (4-6) tonight in Arrowhead Stadium.

As one NFL owner said last week: "I'm surprised how much of a dropoff there is with the No. 2 guy with some teams."

That has not been an issue with the Steelers, who are better equipped than most to handle an injury to starting quarterback Roethlisberger, who has missed 11 games since he entered the league in 2004. The Steelers are 7-4 in those games.

"I might be a little biased, but it's one of the most important positions in the game," Roethlisberger said. "I know they say, 'Oh, we just need someone to manage the game,' but it only gets you so far. There's got to be a belief, a faith, that that guy can get it done."
None better than Steelers

Several years ago, in a poll of NFL coaches and general managers, the Sporting News voted the Steelers as having the best stable of quarterbacks in the league.

That's because Charlie Batch, who has started 52 NFL games, has been a backup with the team since 2002. In 2008 and again in 2010, the Steelers added Byron Leftwich, who has a 24-25 record as a starter in the NFL.

Leftwich is on injured reserve after breaking a bone above his right elbow in the preseason, but the Steelers also have Dennis Dixon, a fifth-round pick in 2008 who is 2-1.

"I've said it before, even when you lose a good one like Byron, you still got a guy like Charlie," Roethlisberger said. "We have four guys who can start in this league."

Make no mistake, quarterbacks are more susceptible to injury than other players because they touch the ball on nearly every play. And those injuries have been on a dramatic rise the past couple of weeks.

Chicago's Jay Cutler (thumb) is expected to miss the rest of the regular season, and Kansas City's Matt Cassel (wrist) and Houston's Matt Schaub (foot) were already placed on injured reserve.

Also, Arizona's Kevin Kolb has missed the past two games with turf toe, and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles missed last week's game against the Giants with bruised ribs.

The most celebrated injury is in Indianapolis where the Colts are still winless without their star quarterback, Peyton Manning. So bad was their depth situation behind Manning that the Colts had to coax Kerry Collins out of retirement for $4 million -- a move that really proved costly when Collins sustained a season-ending injury.

With the exception of the Eagles' Vince Young, who has a 31-17 record as a starter, most of the replacements have little, if any, proven track record. That's why the Chiefs signed veteran Kyle Orton four days ago after he was waived by the Denver Broncos. The lack of quality at such an important position would appear to be surprising, if not inexcusable.

Granted, it has been hard enough for teams to find starting quarterbacks, let alone backups. Even teams who used No. 1 draft picks on quarterbacks such as David Klingler, Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell quickly discovered it is not easy finding a competent one, let alone one who can lead them to the Super Bowl.

"It's a tough task finding quarterbacks in general," said Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who had a good one -- Kurt Warner -- when he was the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals the season they lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

"I think that's been proven in time on some of the hit-or-miss situations through the years, of either guys that everybody thought were no-brainers to be great and then they never panned out, or they were guys that nobody knew their names that turned out to be Kurt Warners. So it's a difficult task. It's a difficult task playing quarterback in the NFL, and I don't think it gets any easier or has gotten any easier through time."

Still, unlike some teams who prefer to cross their fingers that their quarterback won't get hurt, the Steelers always have adhered to the belief it is a better to be safe than sorry.

"I've always believed you better insulate yourself at that position," said general manager Kevin Colbert. "To me, you can never have enough good quarterbacks."

The Steelers have been able to do so, too, at a relatively affordable price.

Batch is in the final year of a contract that pays him $940,000 this season. Leftwich is in the final year of a two-year deal that pays him $2 million annually. And Dixon signed a one-year tender before the season that will earn him $1.2 million this season.

"We have done a good job of keeping our quarterbacks," team president Art Rooney II said. "And I think it helps that we have quarterbacks who want to be here."
The fallacy of invincibility

Despite the recent rash of injuries, more changes actually were made at the quarterback position in 2010. Through the first 11 weeks of last season, 18 of the 32 teams started the same quarterback every game.

This year, the number of teams is 24, although that total will shrink to 22 today when Leinart (Texans) and Hanie (Bears) step in as starters.

Believing your quarterback is invincible and in no desperate need of backup help is a trap into which some teams can easily fall.


Brett Favre started an NFL-record 297 consecutive games, most with the Green Bay Packers, before he finally missed a game in 2010.

Before Peyton Manning was injured this season, he had not missed a start since he entered the league in 1998, a streak of 208 consecutive games.

When Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 opener, it marked the only time he has not started for the New England Patriots since he took over as the starter in Week 3 of 2001.

And, since becoming the starter in Week 10 of his rookie season in 2004, Eli Manning has not missed a start in 113 consecutive games for the New York Giants.

"I guess they feel they can ride with the one they have and hope and pray the starter doesn't get hurt," linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior said.

Over the years, Farrior has witnessed what happened in those games that Roethlisberger missed either because of injury or suspension or because he was rested at the end of the regular season. In those 11 games, Batch is 4-1, Leftwich 1-2 and Dixon 2-1.

Their ability to withstand the loss of Roethlisberger because of a four-game suspension in 2010 is one of the main reasons they were able to finish 12-4 and advance to the Super Bowl.

"We have good backups here," Farrior said. "I'm not saying anything about other teams and their backups, but these guys are proven veterans, they've been in the league, they've started games before, they've been in pressure situations, they've won games for us."

Not every team can say the same thing.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11331/1192873-66-0.stm#ixzz1evBINU1x

11-27-2011, 05:07 PM
I am very grateful for Batch. Every time I see Ben get hit and get up slow I think "There goes the season", but I actually think we would still be a playoff team with Batch provided everybody else played solid at their positions. Batch has never had great receivers to throw to like we have now, it could still be a good passing game. Would we win the SB without Ben, it's probably unlikely, but at least we would still have a chance. IMO I thought we should have had Batch practicing these last few weeks with the starting squad and then start against the Chiefs. I'd hate to see Ben further injure his hand like Cutler and be out for the season, I know any team can beat you if you play down to them, but I think we could win against the Chiefs starting Batch. As for Ben saying "We have 4 guys that could start in this league", that's not true, Dixon will be a back up throughout his career and Leftwich would be a questionable starter on any team. It really surprises me how going into training camp Batch is always our #3 or #4 QB, it actually irritates me, every time he comes in he proves he can fill the role.

11-27-2011, 06:52 PM
Batch is incredibly under-appreciated. He was (and remains)an incredible asset to the Steelers. I'm personally glad he wasn't retired.