Why "Big" Ben Roethlisberger Is Not an Elite Quarterback...Yet

robert aSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2009

Ben Roethlisberger is a solid NFL quarterback. He is a great leader, is tough as nails, and always seems to come up Big (pun intended) when it matters the most.

He is a proven winner. In fact, he is one of only 10 quarterbacks in the history of the league who have won two Super Bowls, and he has already done so at the ripe age of 26.

He is the youngest quarterback to ever win one Super Bowl, and the second youngest to ever win two—behind just Tom Brady.

His recent success has led many—particularly the Pittsburgh faithful—to proclaim him as an elite quarterback, one of the best of the best.

However, while Roethlisberger could retire tomorrow and certainly have a lot to be proud of, those that are trying to categorize him as elite might want to tap the brakes just a bit.

While he certainly might be an elite quarterback when all is said and done, he's not quite there yet, and there is plenty of evidence to back up this claim.

Determining what makes a player elite—or not—is a tough task. There is an ongoing, and most likely never-ending, "war of words" between those that believe that a quarterback's greatness is determined by personal achievements and those that think championships and signature wins are all that matter in the argument.

The plain truth is that they are both important.

Perhaps the only person tied more to a team's record and achievements than a quarterback is a head coach. In general, if a quarterback's team is successful, then they are considered successful, and vice versa.

On the other hand, very rarely will a quarterback who puts up good numbers during their career be considered a great success if they do not have great team achievements to go along with their personal accomplishments.

The poster boy for the "exception to the rule" is Dan Marino, who was able to put up numbers that few quarterbacks can rival. Although he never won a Super Bowl, he is still widely regarded as one of the top few quarterbacks to ever play the game.

While Roethlisberger certainly has had his fair share of team accomplishments, his personal numbers leave much to be desired. This is why he is not yet an elite quarterback.

During Roethlisberger's five years in the league, the Steelers have had the No. 1 overall rated defense in the league in both yardage and scoring. Big Ben has also had the luxury of a rushing attack that finished top 10 in the league four of his five years, top five in the league in three of five years, and top three in two of those years.

Put quite simply, Roethlisberger has had a lot of help—the kind of help that any quarterback would kill for.

Now that's not to say that Big Ben cannot be considered an elite quarterback simply because he has had a great defense and rushing attack. That would be unfair and unreasonable.

However, with that much help, it would be inexcusable for him to put up pedestrian numbers, and with the exception of one magnificent year, that is exactly what he has done.

In 2007, Big Ben looked to have what was a breakout year. He put up 3,154 yards passing and 32 touchdowns to go with only 11 interceptions, and he had an outstanding passer rating of 104.1. This performance earned him his first and only Pro Bowl invitation.

That was the only year that he ever finished in the top 10 in touchdowns. He has also only finished in the top 10 in passing yards per game once (2006). He has, on the other hand, finished in the top three in quarterback rating in three of five seasons.

This would suggest that Big Ben has been an excellent game manager, but not a catalyst to the Steeler's success. All that is asked of him is that he doesn't mess up.

These lackluster numbers could be overlooked, and Big Ben could still be considered an elite quarterback if his offensive unit as a whole still produced at an elite level. For evidence of this, look no further than Troy Aikman.

Aikman wasn't flashy and didn't always put up huge numbers, but he always found a way to get his team in the end zone. His offense was consistently a top three scoring offense and top 10 yardage offense during the Cowboy's great early-'90s seasons.

Roethlisberger's offense has only finished in the top 10 in yardage in one of his five years (ranked seventh in '06) and top ten in scoring in two years (ranked ninth in both '05 and '07).

With his numbers to date, it is near impossible to argue that Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback.

That being said, defenders of Roethlisberger will argue that none of these numbers matter. They will argue that his statistics are inconsequential because he finds a way to win when it counts.

In that regard, credit certainly has to be given where credit is due. Roethlisberger, in his short career, has led the Steelers to 19 come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter, including his latest—and probably greatest—in Super Bowl XLIII against the Cardinals.

However, while this achievement is certainly nothing to look down upon, is it really as impressive as it sounds?

Would a truly elite quarterback who has been lucky enough to play with a defense that has only allowed an average of 16.44 points per game during the course of his career really need to come back from behind so often?

The Pittsburgh offense's average point total before their comeback in those 19 games was 13.52 points, certainly not enough to win a majority of pro football games. The average deficit in those 19 comebacks was 3.42 points, hardly insurmountable, and they never came back from a deficit of more than 10 points (three times).

Are these comebacks more of a credit to Ben Roethlisberger's clutch ability late in games, or are they a credit to a defense whose great play allowed a mediocre offense to stick around in a game they probably didn't belong in?

All evidence points to the latter.

Ben Roethlisberger is a good quarterback. In fact, he is probably even a great quarterback. But he is not an elite quarterback...yet.

Lucky for him, at the still very young age of 26, the book is far from closing on his career. There is no telling where his name might stand among the greats when all is said and done.

Until then, let's slow down with the crowning of Ben Roethlisberger. Time will tell soon enough.