Ben Roethlisberger and 11 NFL Players You Just Can't Bring Down

Barbara Bruno@allprofootballContributor IIDecember 18, 2011

Ben Roethlisberger and 11 NFL Players You Just Can't Bring Down

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    “Big Ben” Roethlisberger (6’5”, 241 pounds) and “Pocket Hercules” Maurice Jones-Drew (5’7”, 208 pounds) have one thing in common: They are nearly impossible to tackle. What is their secret and why do we care?

    I’m one of those people who watch the National Geographic Channel. A lot. In fact, I use it to get me through the offseason. So I see quite a few nature shows.

    One that sticks in my mind is a documentary on elephants. At one point a pride of lions was caught on film trying to “bring down” an elephant.

    I see that picture in my head whenever I watch opposing linebackers trying to tackle Ben Roethlisberger. Notice that I used the plural: Linebackers.

    In all of the Steelers games I’ve watched, I cannot remember ever seeing one LB get Roethlisberger on the ground before he can throw the ball. I’m not saying that it has never happened; I’m just saying I can’t recall it. The winning formula appears to be at least two linebackers or one-and-a-half D-linemen.

    What I do remember is the moment in Ben’s rookie season that I first saw him escape the pocket while dragging two defenders clutching his waist.

    My husband happened to enter the living room during the replay. I said, “Look at this rookie QB.”

    And he said, “Him? No. 7? He’s a quarterback? He’s enormous!” Yes he is.

    But Roethlisberger is not the biggest man on the football field. I was actually surprised when I started writing this article to discover that he is only 6'5''. In my head he’s more like 6'9''. I have a feeling that in the minds of opponents he’s more like 7'2''.

    Ben Roethlisberger was very fortunate to be drafted by a winning team with an awesome running back and a dominant defense. Bill Cowher brought him along slowly.

    People forget that the guy we see currently completely 50-yard passes to Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace was limited in his first few years to a maximum of about 21 passing attempts per game. He didn’t really arrive as a professional-level passer until that Super Bowl-winning pass to Santonio Holmes.

    But what No. 7 may have lacked in NFL passing acumen he made up for in toughness, will and strength. I have no idea what Roethlisberger can lift in the weight room. I don’t think Pittsburgh fans care.

    Ben’s strength is football-field strength. Somehow his torso and legs are strong enough to withstand anybody’s first hit without flinching. And that’s more than almost any other QB in the game can say.

    The first two tackle attempts don’t faze him. He completely disregards 275-pound pass-rushers as if they were gnats: A minor annoyance as he surveys the field.

    We all saw his toughness at work in Week 14 as Roethlisberger successfully won a football game when he could hardly walk. There is something in Ben that makes him able to ignore adversity.

    I haven’t been a fan of Roethlisberger’s off the field and I would have called this intangible quality “arrogance” up until last season, when Ben started to come down to earth and decided to stop being a jerk. To be blunt.

    Now I have to call it sheer “strength of will.” In combination with his physical gifts and toughness, this mental determination makes me pity anyone whose defensive assignment is to rush the passer. Good luck with that.

Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton also stands 6’5” and he weighs in at 248. But unlike Ben Roethlisberger, Newton is a legitimate running threat. Ben’s unique talent is being the best QB in the NFL at extending plays by moving around in a box about 20 feet wide.

    I would say that Cam Newton is like Michael Vick on steroids, but that really wouldn’t be funny. You do know what I mean, right? He is built like Roethlisberger with movement skills at least in the Michael Vick arena, if not quite comparable to the Philly QB.

    When I watch Cam Newton scramble, I think of a young Donovan McNabb. But Newton might have even more talent and he certainly has better WRs than No. 5 ever enjoyed (T.O. season excepted).

    Newton has averaged 5.2 yards per run and scored 13 TDs with his legs. That is, by the way, an NFL record.

    However, what ultimately makes Newton so hard to tackle isn’t his size or his speed. It’s his arm. What, you say? The rookie is completing less than 60 percent of his passes!

    Yes, but he has proven to every defensive coordinator in the football world that he can throw the ball 60 yards through the air to a couple of guys who can actually catch it. Steve Smith may be enjoying having a real QB again, but he is also making his rookie signal-caller look really good by adjusting to inaccurate balls and coming up with deep gains and TDs.

    Every defender that has to drop into coverage against Smith, Brandon LaFell, Jeremy Shockey or Greg Olson is one less guy who can chase Cam Newton.

    And, just like with Roethlisberger, one linebacker is not going to tackle Cam Newton. Assuming that they could even catch him.

Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow

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    76.12 percent of voters in a Denver Post poll think that Denver is going to beat the Patriots in Week 15. 

    Granted, that particular population may be a tad biased, but Tim Tebow is gathering believers everywhere he goes. I’m starting to be one of them. At least in the short term.

    Remember, Tony Romo’s first eight games as a starter dazzled us so much that we voted him to the Pro Bowl. Then teams had an offseason to study the film. Uh-huh.

    But right now, Tebow is a combination of Roethlisberger and Newton when it comes to physical gifts. He has the core strength and lower center of gravity that make Ben so hard to drag to the ground and he has Newton’s running talent.

    He is nowhere near the passing threat that Newton is, but he has the intelligence and poise to avoid interceptions (three in nine games). Much more importantly, he has the same intangible commitment to making a positive play that Ben has to keeping a play alive.

    Cam Newton is a scrambler; Tebow is a running back who can throw the ball. When No. 15 takes the “option” of running, he commits to the play on the same level as Jerome Bettis on the 3-yard line.

    Combining that commitment with a stocky and strong 6’3”, 236-pound big-boned frame results in someone that nobody wants to even try tackling. Right, Antonio Cromarte?

    Tebow runs against defenses the way that Ronnie Lott used to tackle a receiver: He runs through them. I think that Tebow believes he can get to the end zone on every rush and the defenders in his way are just obstacles to be run over. Or through.

Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick: Can’t Touch This

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    Best summation of Vick I’ve ever seen: "He has the arm of John Elway, the moves of Gale Sayers, and the speed of Bob Hayes. Unfortunately, Michael also had the judgment of O.J. Simpson." 

    When Michael Vick started playing professional football, he was an average-sized QB. Ten years later, he’s downright slight. At 6’0” and only 215 pounds, Vick’s talent is also his survival skill—run!

    And he's good at it: Vick is the Thoroughbred to Tebow's Clydesdale.

    I don’t think that Vick will ever be an elite NFL QB on a consistent basis. But his speed (4.2 seconds in the 40 at the combine) is unmatched at the position and his elusive scrambling ability always results in at least one play of jaw-dropping impact.

    The problem is that, if you can catch him, you can knock him out of the game. Repeatedly.

    This season, No. 7 has averaged 8.1 yards per rush for 54.4 yards per game. He has also missed several games due to injury. One of the best athletes to ever buckle up a chinstrap—and the man cannot master the baseball slide. Please.

New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski

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    Okay, enough with the quarterbacks. How about giving some credit to the guy who just carried two Redskins halfway down the football field on his way to the end zone?

    Why isn’t this man a Steeler? Come on—Gronkowski? He even went to high school in Pittsburgh!

    If there were ever a lunch-pail hero, it’s Gronk.

    How else do you explain a gene pool that produced someone 6’6” and 265 pounds—who can catch a football like Tim Brown? He doesn’t so much “catch” the ball as “grab” it.

    That aggressive aura is as important to Gronkowski’s toughness as his size. He’s a bigger and healthier Jeremy Shockey, daring defenders to come anywhere near him. Never say that attitude isn’t a tangible advantage on the gridiron.

    Of course, it helps that he can run a 4.65 40-yard dash, record a 9’11” broad jump, jump 30 inches straight up and have a hand that is almost 11 inches wide.

    Only the best linebackers are as fast as Gronkowski. San Francisco’s Patrick Willis ran a 4.37 40 at the combine, but the average linebacker runs a 4.8.

    Cornerbacks are much speedier at 4.25-4.45. But most of them (outside of Seattle) are 5'9''. So, they can catch Gonkowski. They just can’t do anything to him once they catch him.

    Put it all together and you get the guy who just set a new record for touchdown receptions by a tight end at 15. And that was in Week 14 of the season.

Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson

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    “Megatron” is a freak. Football folk throw that word around frequently, but Calvin Johnson’s skill set at his size is somewhat freakish. Johnson is one inch shorter than Gronkowski—and he’s a wide receiver.

    While the Lions’ No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson is no slouch, Johnson is such a threat that I have yet to see him in single coverage this season. (Again, it may have happened, but I haven’t seen it—have you?)

    What I do see is a lot of Calvin Johnson jumping over the heads of two or three cornerbacks. Despite being the focal point of every secondary the Lions face, he has 72 receptions for 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns. And 54 first downs.

    I include No. 21 in this list not so much for being impossible to tackle. I include him for being virtually impossible to defend.

    Did I mention that he has a vertical jump of 42.5? Yeah. 

Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch and St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson

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    Kings of the Run.

    Marshawn Lynch appears to be all grown up. I haven’t heard about an arrest in a while, he isn’t pouting on the sidelines, no teammate fights. That’s good, because he is a heck of a football player.

    At 5’11” and 215 pounds, Lynch is one of those tank-like running backs whose body must be made entirely of muscle mass. If I were building a football team, I would want Lynch as a centerpiece.

    He is durable, averages a solid 4.3 yards per carry and will break at least one good run per game. He has scored three touchdowns this month. And this month is only halfway over!

    If I cared about fantasy football, I would love this guy. According to, he has averaged 22.4 carries, cementing his "workhorse" status, and has scored five TDs on eight goal-line carries, making him one of the most productive scorers in the league.

    If I cared about real football, which I do, I would love this guy. Watching him run is like watching a pinball machine. He bounces off of people in his path—or they bounce off of him.

    The other thing that makes him so hard to bring down is his cloak of invisibility. Seriously, how many times just this year has he disappeared into a scrum only to squirt out the other side and run for another seven yards? I figure he’s either “the invisible running back” or he’s Gumby.

    Can we just go ahead and have Steven Jackson bronzed? For me? Tell me that this man should not be a statue in the perfect male physique museum? But I digress.

    I admit to considerable bias when it comes to Mr. Jackson. His athletic prowess is evident in the numbers: 2,080 carries for 8,843 yards and 52 TDs. In eight years. On a team with absolutely no other discernible offense.

    Jackson gains 4.3 yards per carry against eight or nine in the box. On every attempt. I do not know how he does it.

    I also don’t know how he maintains his resolute class and professionalism. He plays for a team that has won 29 games—since 2004. Yeah. They should just put his picture in the encyclopedia under “How to Play Professional Running Back.”

New York Giants’ Brandon Jacobs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount

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    Fourth Quarter Wonders.

    Running back success can be measured differently. Brandon Jacobs doesn’t gain seven yards every time he touches the ball. He only has one 100-yard game this year. But he has eight touchdowns in 11 games and recovered the only fumble he coughed up.

    In the Super Bowl season of 2007, Jacobs ran for 1,009 yards (five yards per carry) and had 23 receptions in nine starts.

    Watch defenders in the fourth quarter. No one wants to go anywhere near No. 27. By that time, they have had enough of trying to bring down a moving cement truck in pads.

    It’s the same with Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount. He is the only remaining running back for the Bucs.

    Actually, he is essentially the only remaining offense. And yet he has five TDs and 31 first downs for his team.

    In Week 11, Blount had one rush in which 11 Green Bay Packers tried to tackle him. None succeeded.

    And don’t get me started on how it is even possible that men this size can literally hurdle opponents. They look like Edwin Moses plus 100 pounds. Let’s face it, at 250 and 264 pounds respectively, these guys are linebackers with wheels.

Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Men who logically should not be on this list.

    Continuing on the “how is this possible” theme, these two gentlemen are not built to be "un-tacklable."

    Adrian Peterson is just over six feet and doesn’t crack 220 pounds soaking wet. Maurice Jones-Drew is 5’7” and doesn’t crack 210!

    Neither plays for a team with a quarterback or wide receivers. Neither is new in the NFL and both have plenty of film available for defensive study.

    And yet opponents cannot bring them to the ground with anything approaching regularity. Jones-Drew is on his third consecutive season of more than 1,300 yards rushing.

    In his first four professional seasons, Peterson never rushed for less than 1,298 yards and in 2008 he totaled almost 1,800 yards from scrimmage on the run alone.

    There are only two explanations for their tackle-busting prowess.

    1) Muscle mass. AP looks like a lean machine, but I’m willing to bet that a scientific study of his muscles would show abnormal density. Besides, he works tirelessly on strength and conditioning.

    Meanwhile, Pocket Hercules is built like a bowling ball. He has 42” thighs. I’m not kidding.

    2) Stubbornness. Jones-Drew is famous for ignoring every person in his 26 years on earth that told him he was too small to succeed.

    Adrian Peterson was a steal in the draft because of a severe injury in college. He defied critics who said that he wouldn’t be durable. This year is the first time that he has been significantly hurt as a pro. The complete lack of a passing game in Minnesota was probably a factor there.

Why Do We Care?

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    Bull-headedness. Perseverance. Toughness. Will.

    That this article even exists is testament to the fact that we as human beings want to be inspired. We admire toughness. We marvel at seemingly impossible feats.

    We want to see Maurice Jones-Drew break three tackles from guys almost literally twice his size—on his single-minded quest for the end zone.

    We want to see Tim Tebow win in a way that the experts say can’t be done.

    We want to see Big Ben stand tall in the pocket with two linebackers wrapped around his legs.

    We want to see Calvin Johnson perform aerial acrobatics impossible for mortal men.

    I remember the first time I saw a football player run down the field dragging three people. It was in high school. His name was Charles Woodhead. I have no idea where he is now, but I remember feeling absolute awe when those defenders latched onto him—and he kept going for another 10 yards.

    When Marshawn Lynch broke eight tackles on his way to the end zone and a Seattle playoff victory, seismographs in the Pacific Northwest registered an earthquake as the stands shook with the pounding of thousands of jubilant feet. That’s the power of will. That’s why we care.


    Picks for every Week 15 Game.