Is Ben Roethlisberger a "Great" Quarterback?: The Indisputable Comparison

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Is Ben Roethlisberger a

And of course you WILL argue it, because that is what we as fans do: we choose a player or team to support, then vehemently, sometimes illogically, support them and bolster their greatness by singing their accolades while ignoring or tearing down their detractors.

Such is the life of a football fan.

With his second Super Bowl victory as a starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger joins an elite club of top passers and play-callers who have managed to lead their team to victory in the NFL's biggest game on multiple occasions.

For all his success, though, he still is left out of the discussion more times than not when the best quarterbacks to play the game are being debated.

We've all heard the arguments, and I've made most of them myself. But I think a little recap is in order before I get to the true comparison that ends, or should end, the discussion.

 

Three Greats that Nearly Everyone Can Agree Upon

Peyton Manning

Peyton's numbers can be awe-inspiring. He holds or is tied for an astounding 24 NFL records, including most seasons with 4000 passing yards, highest regular season passer rating, and the only QB with 12 wins in six consecutive seasons, just to name a few.

He holds seven career or single-game Pro Bowl records and five rookie QB records all by himself. He's won a Super Bowl, and he's a three-time league MVP. All great accomplishments, to be sure. How can Ben Roethlisberger compare to Manning?

Because it took Manning nine years to win a Super Bowl. And he only has one.

Because he went 1-15 as a rookie starter.

Because if you take away his passing game, he doesn't have the ability to create plays like Big Ben does.

Because he cannot run unless it is ABSOLUTELY necessary, and then he takes off with all the speed of a three-toed tree sloth.

Roethlisberger has more wins faster, a better rookie record, and two—count 'em, TWO—Super Bowl Rings to Manning's one.

But that's not the comparison I'm talking about.

 

Tom Brady

Mr. Brady is another quarterback that occasionally garners a comparison. But why? He's the only other quarterback besides Roethlisberger to win two Super Bowls before he turned 27, but he has three rings to Roethlisberger's two, and has been to the big show four times.

He has thrown for over 3,000 yards in six of his nine seasons in the league, with his first and most recent years being affected by injury or lowly backup status.

He has garnered two Super Bowl MVP awards, one in Super Bowl XXVI and again in XXXVIII.

With all that, how can Big Ben even begin to match up?

Because Brady is fragile and largely immobile. Get pressure on him consistently and he struggles. Hitting him once is usually enough to knock him down. One of his Super Bowl MVP's came on the heels of a 146 yard, one touchdown effort, a great bit of which came on the last drive of the game to get a field goal.

And it is my opinion that he is too smug, with a sense of entitlement that just irks me.

But again, this is not the comparison which I referred to in the beginning.

 

John Elway

I did not come up with this one out of the blue. It was something I read in a comment on another article, but it got me thinking: is there any comparison?

Let's see: only quarterback to start in five Super Bowls, most career Super Bowl rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, most come-from-behind game-winning or tying drives—47(!!!)—and went out in fine fashion, winning his two Super Bowls in consecutive years, 1997 and 1998.

He is also one of only three quarterbacks drafted at No. 1 who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame.

But Roethlisberger also has two rings, and he won his in his first two appearances. Elway also holds the ignoble record of most sacks by a quarterback, a feat that Roethlisberger may well eclipse in his career.

Roethlisberger and Elway also had similar outings in their first Super Bowl victories: Roethlisberger went 9-of-21 for 123 yards and two interceptions, and Elway was only marginally better with 11-of-22 for 146 yards and one interception.

In an ironic twist of fate, Roethlisberger wears No. 7 in honor of John Elway, one of his childhood heroes.

So is this the comparison? Nope, although it very well could be.

 

The Real Thing, Finally

Let's forget all of the comparisons above. They've been argued over and over again, and everybody has both the information and their opinion on what it all actually means.

So where does that leave us? Who could Big Ben possibly be compared to in order to justify him as an elite quarterback?

Joe Montana? The "father" of the West Coast Offense, or at least the guy who made it attractive? Please. Not even I am that biased (although I will admit... nah, better not start that one.)

Troy Aikman? Brett Favre? Steve Young? Nope, none of these either.

Well who the heck is it?

 

Fran Tarkenton

Yes, Fran Tarkenton. "Scramblin' Fran", they called him, for his tendency to run around in the backfield to avoid a sack and make a play, as if he was in a pick-up game on a back lot.

Now where have I heard that before?

Fran Tarkenton was ranked No. 59 out of 100 by the Sporting News in their top 100 Greatest Football Players poll in 1999. Former coach Bud Grant unequivocally called Tarkenton "The greatest quarterback who's ever played."

Tarkenton's career accomplishments earned him a Hall of Fame bid in 1987, a well-deserved honor. He was instrumental to ushering in the era of the scrambling quarterback, and many quarterbacks since have followed his lead.

Tarkenton made nine Pro Bowl appearances in his career, is ranked eighth all-time in passes completed, third in career touchdowns thrown, and fifth in career yardage. Not bad numbers. 

So how does Roethlisberger compete with someone who is obviously a top-notch quarterback?

I was hoping you'd ask.

I can hear some of you groaning: yes, I'm gonna play the numbers game. I will do my best to keep the numbers objective. Yes, I know they played in different eras, but I'm old enough to have seen Tarkenton play for both the Giants AND the Vikings. He did it differently than anyone else in the game, and he succeeded to some extent. When everyone else was sitting back in the pocket and flinging it around, Tarkenton was running all over the place.

Again, where have I seen that recently?

Let's start with wins and winning percentage. Tarkenton's regular season career percentage was .531, which equates to an average of just less than 7 wins a season. Roethlisberger sits at a percentage of .718, or an average of 10.5 wins per season so far. Yes, I know Tarkenton played for 18 years, but in that time he had three seasons with 10 or more wins.

Roethlisberger has already eclipsed that in his first five.

Tarkenton's career passer rating is 80.4, Roethlisberger's is 89.4. YES, I know Fran played for 18 years, so stop saying it. In Tarkenton's career he had passer ratings over 90 only three times; Roethlisberger has had only one season under 80, and already has three seasons at 90 or higher.

In 239 starts, Tarkenton threw 342 touchdowns—an average of 1.4 per game. Big Ben has 101 touchdowns in 71 starts for an average of 1.4 per game. Right on pace with the Hall of Famer.

Fran has a career touchdown-to-attempt percentage of 5.3 percent. So does Roethlisberger.

Now my favorite, the Super Bowl.

First, Tarkenton went to three Super Bowls in his career, losing all three. In those three visits, he managed passer ratings of 67.9, 52.7, and 14.1 (!!!). Roethlisberger has been twice and won—TWICE.

I know what you're thinking: Roethlisberger holds the lowest rating EVER for a winning quarterback!

Doesn't matter; he and his team won the game. Both of them, in fact. In his two Super Bowl appearances Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 64. In Tarkenton's three losses, his overall rating was 43.7.

Big Ben's winning rating was bad, but Tarkenton's losing one was worse.

In his three Super Bowls, Tarkenton threw six interceptions. Ben has thrown three interceptions in two appearances.

 

Stats Are Not the Only Thing

I know the stats game can be played by anyone to any result they desire, but it doesn't negate the fact that they are relevant to the conversation. Aside from stats, however, there is only one quarterback in the game who plays the same way as Roethlisberger, and he is regularly mentioned in the greatest quarterback debate. 

And both of them play the way Tarkenton did: disdaining the pocket, avoiding sacks, running around trying to find someone open, and rather more often than would be desired, throwing the ball downfield when they probably shouldn't. 

The overall effect, of course, being that opposing defensive backs have more to worry about than just covering pass routes. They have to cover pass routes for an extremely long time, which means that someone is gonna get open for a big play.

And if they don't, the quarterback is likely to tuck it and run for big yards.

Final verdict: if Tarkenton deserves a Hall of Fame spot, Roethlisberger deserves to be called an elite quarterback.

If Big Ben can maintain the pace he is currently on, he will eventually deserve to be called one of the best...ever.

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