Ben Roethlisberger is big on winning – he is 55-22 as a starter, the best record for any NFL quarterback not named Tom Brady.
Statistics? In the past, those were for the guys who didn’t win Super Bowls; Roethlisberger has won two titles. Now, as coordinator Bruce Arians keeps opening up the Steelers‘ long-conservative offense, it’s Roethlisberger – not Brady or Drew Brees or Brett Favre – who leads the NFL in passing.
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Not even Terry Bradshaw did that in Pittsburgh and won Super Bowls, too.
Roethlisberger didn’t finish in the top 10 in yards passing during either of the two seasons the Steelers won the Super Bowl with him, 2005 or 2008, and he’s never finished higher than eighth.
After throwing for 417 yards Sunday while beating Cleveland 27-14 for the most by any Pittsburgh quarterback during a victory, Roethlisberger leads the NFL with 1,887 yards passing, 77 more than Houston’s Matt Schaub. Roethlisberger also is No. 2 in completion percentage (72.5), No. 2 in yards per game (314.5) and No. 4 in passer rating (104.5).
“We’re putting the ball in his hands,” said wide receiver Hines Ward – though, in reality it’s the other way around. “When you talk about the elite, he’s right up there. He’s definitely displaying the talents and abilities to be a great quarterback in this league.”
There’s been no major alteration in Roethlisberger’s game that’s led to his greatly increased statistics. Rather, it has been more of an ongoing progression, with former coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and now Arians increasingly handing over more of the offense to him.
Roethlisberger, for example, constantly pushed to run the no-huddle offense. Now, he’s being allowed to do that consistently, with obvious success. Roethlisberger, who began this season with seven 300-yard games in five seasons, is averaging 314.5 yards.
“When I get to the no-huddle, It’s just, ‘Let’s get in the shotgun and start slinging it around,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “I think if you ask the receivers, they like it. Two guys had over 100 yards (against Cleveland). Heath (Miller) had a lot of yards. The backs are getting the ball. Everybody is getting touches, so I think they like it as well.”
The Steelers (4-2) are even bringing the tight end into the passing game, something they always talk about but never seem to do. Miller, mostly a blocker and part-time receiver, is second among tight ends with 34 catches and four touchdowns in three games.
Only the Colts (326 yards) are averaging more yards per game passing than Pittsburgh (296.7). At his current pace, Roethlisberger would become not only the first Steelers QB to throw for 4,000 yards in a season – Bradshaw passed for 3,724 in 1979 – but for 5,000.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen him (Roethlisberger) play,” Miller said. “I’ve seen him play pretty darn good sometimes. I just think the more you do something, the more comfortable you are with it and Ben has full command of this offense. He’s had full command for a few years now, but he just keeps getting better and better.”
In the past, defenses slowed Roethlisberger by constantly blitzing him, and he was sacked an NFL-high 192 times from 2004-08. Only Marc Bulger (191) of St. Louis was within 20 sacks of him.
The Steelers‘ pass protection has been much improved this season, with Roethlisberger going down 16 times, or nine fewer than league leader Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay. Before throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Miller on Sunday, Roethlisberger had so much time he could have waited until after taking the snap to get the play call from the bench.
“He frustrates a lot of defenses because you bring a bunch of guys and he’s able to create plays,” Browns coach Eric Mangini said. “You drop a bunch of guys, you may give him too much time. He’s elusive and he’s strong. He’s different than a lot of guys you face just by his arm strength, his elusiveness. He frustrates a lot of different guys and different defenses.”
While the Steelers‘ running game isn’t what it was when Jerome Bettis and, later, Willie Parker were piling up 1,000-yard seasons, Rashard Mendenhall has rushed for 304 yards in the last three games. And Ward, in his 12th season, leads the league in yards receiving for the first time.
“I just think we have to do what we can do,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re doing what we have to win the game.”
On Sunday, Roethlisberger gets his first career matchup against all-time NFL passing leader Brett Favre of unbeaten Minnesota (6-0). Roethlisberger was injured and didn’t play when the Steelers beat Favre’s Packers 20-10 in 2005.
“(He’s) a guy that I’ve looked up to, so I look forward to that,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s going to be a good challenge. We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game on offense.”