Do the Steelers Really Need Ben Roethlisberger? A Statistical Comparison

Vance MunsonCorrespondent IMay 7, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 20: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers argues a call with back judge Perry Paganelli during the game against the Green Bay Packers on December 20, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Apologies and therapy aside, the Steelers thought about dumping their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, last month. Even with Roethlisberger's six game suspension, I was surprised to hear Pittsburgh was shopping their signal caller as the details of his sexual scandal became public. Yet, there might have been an internal debate in the organization over how valuable he really is to their team. My Browns fan friends and I had the same debate.

The debate was two-fold. One, is he overrated because of his team's outstanding defense? Two, would he look good in a Browns uniform?

As a Cleveland fan, I have always felt Big Ben was the second coming of John Elway; put on this earth to come-from-behind, improvise on broken plays, and shatter my heart for a full decade. The argument for Roethlisberger in a Browns uni is a good one. He’s better than almost any quarterback in the league (right?).

He has more experience and moxie than any quarterback the Browns have, or really could hope to draft. Developing a QB is such a crap-shoot anyway, so why not take the guy with two rings?

Big Ben also has a wonderful reputation for coming from behind in big games. He’s done it to the Browns four or five times, and there is the indisputable tape of his 100 yard drive in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl. Still, I wonder if Browns fans have been hypnotized into thinking Big Ben is something he is not because we haven’t had a good quarterback on the roster for over a decade.

Moreover, does Big Ben’s defense make him better than he really is, or does he make his defense better?

The argument against the Browns trading for Big Ben last month had more to do with the doubt that he really is the difference maker on his team. Did the Steelers have this doubt too as, or if, they dangled him out there for a top ten pick?

The Steelers have always been a defense first team. If you look at Ben’s stats, you'll find that he is nothing more than a Game Manager right? How else could he go 14-0 as a rookie in this league?

At least that’s what I thought.

So to settle this, I put together a fun little research project. Observe the statistical grids linked below, comparing Ben Roethlisberger’s stats with every other QB who won a Super Bowl this decade. We have two grids, one which compares the regular season stats of all these QB’s in the year they won the Super Bowl. The other gives a statistical comparison of the same QB’s through their playoff run to winning that Super Bowl.

I even broke the group into two groups of five: the Game Managers (Brown) and the Play Makers (Green).  

Game Managers are QBs who play with an elite defense and running game, don't throw a lot of passes, and aren't asked to win the game. The Play Maker is a fun term for the opposite; your Drew Brees type who plays with a bad defense and wins the game with his arm. Initially, I tried to prove Big Ben was nothing more than an overrated Game Manager, though I suspected he was more. I included the postseason grid for this reason.

Big Ben is joined by fellow Game Managers Brad Johnson, Eli Manning, and Trent Dilfer/Tony Banks (combined stats from when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000. Both guys started 8 games, though Dilfer played throughout the playoffs). The Play Makers are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. That’s 7 guys over 10 years, Brady and Ben won multiple championships.

Sorry if you don’t agree with my categorizing. This was just a hypothesis to look at five years of Game Managers and five years of Play Makers to see how things played out.

This study was also intended to shed some light on another assumption the Cleveland gang and I had come to believe. You win the Super Bowl two ways: you either have the best defense in the league, and trot out poster boy game managers like Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, OR you have the once in a generation type Quarterback dreams are made of.

Thus, the defensive ranking each QB played with the year they won the Super Bowl has been included.

Total yards have been eliminated from the postseason stats because taking the average of Big Ben’s seven post-season games and comparing it to the average of the field’s 27 post-season games makes no sense. In the regular season they are all judged on a uniform 16 game schedule.

If ever a player started less than 15 regular season games, his stats have been adjusted as if he did. This makes the * seasons less than perfect, but it should be pretty close. I did this for 2001 Brad Johnson, another presumed Game Manager, and 2005 Big Ben.

The fairest and most logical comparison turned out to be going with Big Ben’s averages from both his Super Bowl years, against the average of everyone else. Click on the links to download the grids, then take a look at eh conclusions I have numbered below. Hope you enjoy (spoiler alert Big Ben actually is good)…

2000-2009 Regular Season QB Comparison Grid


2000-2009 Post-Season QB Comparison Grid

  1. Overall Big Ben is a good Game Manager in the regular season, but turns into a Play Maker in the post-season. The Steelers defense gets them to the post-season too, but its Ben that’s the difference maker in their two recent rings. Pretty much all of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks statistically looked like Game Managers though.

  2. In fact, if you ignore my initial QB categorizing, only 2 of the 10 QBs, Brees and Manning, were decidedly not Game Managers. So it’s a little unfair to hold that against Ben. This past Super Bowl aside, all the winners have had good defenses and played a little ball control. So to win, unfortunately for Browns fans, you need the awesome QB AND the awesome defense.

  3. The two lowest regular season completion and attempt totals do belong to Big Ben. It seems he was needed less to get to his Super Bowls which smells of Game Manager. But, his other averages are pretty much in line with everyone else who won a Super Bowl, so he is no wrose.

  4.  Big Ben also owns the highest QB rating and completion percentage for anyone in the Game Manager category, and the highest yards per completion on the regular season board. The average defense he played was dramatically better than the field, however.

  5. Just look at Tom Brady. Maybe it’s on me for assuming at the start he was a Play Maker, but he has Game Manager stats. He played with elite Ds and never topped 30 TDs or 4000 yards (in a year he won the Super Bowl that is). Particularly in his first Super Bowl season, in 2001, Brady has some of the worst stats on either board. Stranger still, his defense was not good that year either, yet they still won the title. 

  6. While Brady’s 2001 might be an outlier for the Play Makers, Brad Johnson’s 2002 certainly is for the Gamer Managers. His stats might be the best on the regular season board outside of Brees and Manning. He made the Pro Bowl that year and missed 3 games. Yet once he reached the postseason, his numbers dropped. The top 3 regular seasons listed are: Drew Brees in 2009; Peyton Manning in 2006, and Brad Johnson in 2002.

  7. Of course per our hypothesis, Big Ben’s post-season stats  jump up above the field’s averages, and everyone else’s drop a little. His rating in the playoffs is particularly impressive through his two Super Bowl runs. I mentioned Brad Johnson's number dropping off in crunch time above, but also look at Peyton Manning’s playoffs, downright awful. Manning had by far the worst post-season run of anyone who won the Super Bowl these last ten years.

  8. Tom Brady’s stats jump up only once, as he had one impressive postseason out of three tries, while Drew Brees’ recent Super Bowl run is downright amazing. Thus, the top 3 playoff runs in the past 10 years are: Drew Brees in 2009, Tom Brady in 2004, and Big Ben in 2005.

  9. Considering he won the Super Bowl for a team in its first ever appearance, and both his regular season and postseason stats are the best listed, you could argue that Drew Brees just had one of the greatest seasons ever for an NFL quarterback.

  10. EXTRA pain for Browns fans - For fun I also looked through the Browns defensive rankings over this time period. In the early part of the decade, from 2002-2005, they were ranked either 15th or 16th in the NFL. When Romeo Crennel, the defensive guru, arrived, they dropped to 26th or worst. The Browns best season of the expansion era came in 2007, they finished 10-6. But the defense still ranked 31st, one unusual example where a good offense did not pull up a bad defense.


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