Steelers make pitch for Roethlisberger as MVP
November 11, 2012
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Byron Leftwich watched ESPN's "SportsCenter" the other day, and they listed their top five candidates for NFL Most Valuable Player. • Ben Roethlisberger was not among them. "He should be a candidate," said Leftwich, who backs him up at quarterback for the Steelers in more ways than one. "The fact he was not listed is ridiculous. He's one of the elite; '7' can play the game of football, and he's playing at a very high level."
What many believed might be a difficult transition season for Roethlisberger under a new coordinator and a new offense instead has been among his best. His 2,203 passing yards are on pace to break his own team record. His 16 touchdowns are on pace to tie his team record. His four interceptions are on pace to be his fewest other than the five he threw in 2010, when he missed four games and had just 17 touchdown passes.
His passer rating of 101.1 would be the second-highest of his career.
Most importantly, his play has been steadily spectacular while other areas of the team struggled mightily early in the season with the lack of a ground game, an offensive line not yet cohesive and a defense that gave up too many fourth-quarter leads.
Roethlisberger has led game-winning fourth-quarter drives three times, bringing his total (including overtime and the postseason) to 30.
"He's a big reason why we've been in games and why we feel we can win any game," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "That's why we feel we can go to the Super Bowl every year, because we have a championship-type quarterback."
All kinds of dire predictions were made when the Steelers fired Bruce Arians and hired Todd Haley as his replacement at coordinator. Haley came with a reputation that he could be confrontational with his students. Roethlisberger, who considers Arians a friend, was naturally skeptical.
But he bought into the new offense with its high-percentage passes and short check-downs to halfbacks, the lack of deep throws and an increased importance in the ground game. He's thrived and survived in it, his sacks cut way down at 17.
"He's a big-time leader, a big-time competitor, a fourth-quarter killer," Mike Wallace said. "He's the toughest quarterback in the league. ... He picked up the new offense really fast. I feel it's time he gets the recognition he deserves."
Roethlisberger made his second Pro Bowl last season (he turned down a chance for a third after the 2009 season). He's ninth in MVP odds, according to Bovada (www.bovada.lv
) at 20-1. Peyton Manning is the favorite at 2-1 followed by Matt Ryan (3-1), Tom Brady (6-1), Aaron Rodgers (7-1), Eli Manning (12-1), Arian Foster and Drew Brees (both 15-1) and J.J. Watt (18-1).
His teammates aren't buying it.
"You see how valuable he is to our team, the plays he's able to make at 6-5, 245 pounds," Leftwich said. "Nobody else makes those type of plays. Nobody else his size is capable to do what he can do -- throw people off him all the time and make a play. Big guys can do that but then they can't move around enough to throw the ball 35 yards down the field to Emmanuel Sanders.
"He's a very unique football player, and I think sometimes by him being unique and the style he plays, he doesn't get enough credit for all the things he does right. He doesn't play the way people perceive the quarterback position to play.
"The great thing about him is he's never changed his game. He can't play someone else's game. If that comes out to winning two Super Bowls and be in three, you'd think people would look at that: Is he getting the job done or not? No one can say he's not. He's won 70 percent of his games."
And this year, he has elevated his own game in subtle ways -- the ways Haley has asked of him. He is also, again, among the most clutch players in the game. He leads all quarterbacks with a passer rating of 121.2 on third down. Tom Brady is next at 110.2.
"Sometimes he doesn't get mentioned with the elite quarterbacks for one reason or another," Keisel said. "We in this locker room consider him the best."