By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com
In Pittsburgh's 38-7 win over Baltimore on Monday night, Ben Roethlisberger became only the fifth player since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to throw five touchdown passes in the first half of a game.
You only can hope to contain him: Of Ben Roethlisberger's 20 TD passes this season, 12 have come on plays where he was outside the pocket.
And the fourth-year quarterback might have been the first to throw all five from outside the pocket. On each of the touchdown passes -- two apiece to wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington, and one to tight end Heath Miller -- Roethlisberger either was flushed from the pocket by pressure or tore away from a would-be sacker and bought himself time to locate targets downfield.
In fact, a dozen of Roethlisberger's 20 touchdown passes in 2007 have come on plays where he was outside the pocket, by necessity or design. The 20 touchdown passes are a career high for Roethlisberger and currently are second-most in the league, behind only Tom Brady's 33.
Standing at just a hair under 6 feet, 5 inches, and checking in at about 240-245 pounds, Roethlisberger has demonstrated remarkable improvisational skills for a quarterback so big. He might possess the physical dimensions of a classic dropback, pocket-style passer, but he is putting up huge numbers doing things in a decidedly unconventional manner.
"It's just incredible how Ben can keep plays alive," Pittsburgh right offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "People look at him, and I'm sure they think, 'Well, that guy probably doesn't move very well.' And some of those same people are probably defensive linemen who have learned the hard way that he's a pretty good athlete, [surprisingly] elusive and hard to get on the ground. He's got real good instincts for sensing where the rush is coming from, and he's got pretty quick feet, too."
The results from the pre-draft scouting combine in 2004 show Roethlisberger was clocked at 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That isn't exactly sprinter's speed, but for a quarterback, it's pretty good. It's especially good for a quarterback known more for his arm than for his feet.
Then again, with former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick banished from the league for an indefinite period, there aren't many quarterbacks who are regarded as strong runners.
"Maybe I should look to run, to turn it [upfield] more," Roethlisberger said Monday night. "But usually, I'm just trying to find some space for time to throw. And I always try to keep my vision down the field."
Remember when some experts suggested that Vick, because of his warp-speed acceleration and the threat he presented to defenses when he turned upfield, would revolutionize the way the game was played and the manner in which quarterbacks were evaluated? Such prognostication on the shape of the game's future always was equal parts fallacy and folly, because it essentially presupposed that scouts somehow would be able to unearth players who had Vick's unique skills.
It never was practical to believe such a thing.
So the alleged revolution that was to have been led by Vick became a de-evolution of sorts even before his suspension. The New Age that was supposed to have been ushered into the NFL when Vick entered the league in 2001 in truth came to a close long before he was led into a courtroom. And even the talent-evaluators who openly championed the era of the more mobile quarterback have come to redefine what that term really means now.
The odds are that there might never be another quarterback at the NFL level who rushes for 1,000 yards in a season. The position still is more about throwing than running and probably always will be.
Brady, after all, has only six fewer touchdown passes (33) than he does rushing yards (39). His longest run of the season was for 19 yards.
Tough sledding for QBs
There are only 11 quarterbacks who have rushed for 70 yards or more this season, and 2007 figures to be the first year since 1996 in which a quarterback does not register at least 400 rushing yards. Here are the leading rushers entering Week 10's games:
Most QB Rushing Yards (2007) Player Team Yards
Vince Young Tennessee 165
David Garrard Jacksonville 134
Jason Campbell Washington 131
Jeff Garcia Tampa Bay 111
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh 86
Alex Smith San Francisco 83
Jay Cutler Denver 81
Tony Romo Dallas 81
Josh McCown Oakland 77
J.P. Losman Buffalo 72
Donovan McNabb Philadelphia 70
"It's kind of the revolution that never was and that never will be in this league," one NFC offensive coordinator said of the age of the running quarterback. "I mean, just look around now and tell me, where are all these running quarterbacks? You can't find them."
Through the first nine weeks, the leading rusher among quarterbacks is Vince Young of Tennessee, with 165 yards on 47 carries. He is one of only four quarterbacks who have reached triple-digit rushing yards. Just seven other quarterbacks, including Roethlisberger with 86 yards, have rushed for 70 yards or more.
This season, NFL quarterbacks have carried 636 times for 1,993 yards and 25 touchdowns, an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
Last season, when Vick rushed for a league-record 1,036 yards, he averaged 8.45 yards per carry. There are six starting quarterbacks who haven't reached 8 yards rushing this season.
Fourteen franchises have quarterbacks with cumulative rushing totals under 50 yards. Six of those have fewer than 25 yards, and three actually have negative yardage at this point of the season.
There's a good chance this will be the first season since 1996 in which the NFL won't have a quarterback with at least 400 rushing yards. In all but two of the 10 seasons since 1996, the NFL has had at least one quarterback with 525 yards.
Quarterbacks need more than singular talents to succeed, but in the NFL, a quick release will trump quick feet just about every time when scouts begin to size up quarterback prospects.
Said Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has rushed for 111 yards: "For the most part, a quarterback in this league isn't paid to run for big plays. Vick was the exception. But the norm is the guy who can move around, maybe make the occasional play on the upfield run, but who uses his feet to find throwing room or to get away from the rush."
This brings us back to Roethlisberger and his underrated movement skills in the pocket.
It probably is hyperbole to suggest that Roethlisberger now represents the new model of the mobile quarterback, but he isn't a bad place to start. He is far more athletic than people think, hardly ungainly when he moves outside the pocket, and was termed "a big Doug Flutie" by Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis.
Given how porous Pittsburgh's pass protection has been sometimes this season, that is a skill that has become well practiced. Receiver Hines Ward noted after Monday night's victory that the Steelers are making a lot of plays when the protection breaks down and Roethlisberger and his pass-catchers ad lib.
"We don't go into a game and say, 'Everybody, y'all just go out there and run around, and Ben, you just find an open guy.' That's not how our game plan works. When we get around to playing the really elite teams, we've got to be a lot crisper."
True enough. Still, it is a strength that Roethlisberger rarely loses sight of what is occurring down the field when he scrambles. And as evidenced by Monday's results, in which Roethlisberger left a legion of Baltimore pass-rushers in his wake, a quarterback who can make plays outside the pocket can frustrate a defense.
And as much as anyone in the league, Roethlisberger has come to represent the reworked concept of quarterback mobility.
"He has escapability, definitely," said Steelers first-year coach Mike Tomlin. "When he needs to get away from people, he's doing it. He is not a run-happy quarterback. Far from it. He is a quarterback who is elusive and can buy time with his athleticism when things around him break down. And that's really what you want."