Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Steelers position review - Quarterback

April 03, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is Part 5 of our Steelers position review series.  If you haven’t read Part 1 - 4, please click the links below.

Steelers position review - Cornerbacks

Steelers position review - Safeties

Steelers position review - Linebackers

Steelers position review - Defensive Line

Now that we’ve finished reviewing the defense, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offense.  The first position that we’re going to review is the quarterback position.

Most fans would probably say that the Steelers are set at the quarterback position.  They’ve got their franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and 3 veteran backups in Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dixon.

Big Ben had an outstanding season.  Despite missing 4 games, he still passed for 3,200 yards.  But perhaps more importantly, he drastically reduced his number of interception.  In 2008 he threw 15 interceptions, in 2009 he threw 12, but in 2010 he threw only 5.  Even factoring in the games that he missed, this was still the lowest interceptions/game average of his career.

Big Ben ended the regular season with a quarterback rating of 97.0.  That was 5th best in the entire NFL.  Moreover, he led the Steelers to another Super Bowl.  I think it’s safe to say that the Steelers’ starting quarterback position is in good hands.

The problem begins with the Steelers’ backups.  Byron Leftwich was brought back to carry the team during Big Ben’s suspension.  However, he got injured before the season started, and he never got to fill that role.

The injury wasn’t Byron’s fault, and I don’t hold it against him.  However, I have a huge concern about what I saw before he got injured.  During training camp, he looked extremely inaccurate.  During the preseason, that inaccuracy didn’t seem to change.

In his first stint with the Steelers, I felt very confident anytime Byron entered the game.  He was an experienced veteran who had seen it all.  However, during his current stint with the Steelers I have yet to feel that confidence.

QB Byron Leftwich

Leftwich is 31 years old, which isn’t particularly old for an NFL quarterback.  He still has quite a few years left in his career.  However, he has to look much better during this year’s training camp than he did last year, or he might not make the team.

While Byron Leftwich is young enough to play for a few more seasons, Charlie Batch probably isn’t.  Batch will turn 37 during the 2011 season.  He’s been a backup quarterback for the Steelers for the past 8 years (since 2002).  Batch has been a reliable backup during that time.  But he can’t play forever.  People wanted to see Brett Favre retire when he was Charlie’s age.  And Brett was one of the all-time greats.  So I think it’s time for Batch retire.  Sorry Charlie.  But for what it’s worth, I think Batch would make a great addition to the Steelers’ coaching staff.

Dennis Dixon is the final backup quarterback for the Steelers.  Like Leftwich,  Dixon missed much of the season with an injury.  However, Dixon is only 26 years old.  That’s about how old I would expect a backup quarterback to be.

Dixon has shown some good things in the limited opportunities that he’s gotten to play.  But he’s also shown some bad tendencies.  To be honest, I’m not sure that all of it is his fault.  For example, Dixon is probably the most athletic of all of the Steelers quarterbacks.  Yet, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians seldom allowed him to utilize his running talents.  This was partially due to the fact that Leftwich was already hurt, and Roethlisberger was suspended.  Arians didn’t want to risk Dixon getting hurt (which ultimately happened anyway).  But going forward, Arians has to utilize all of Dixon’s skills.

To make the matter even more complicated, Dixon is a free agent this year.  So it’s possible that the Steelers could lose him to free agency.

If I were to guess what will happen going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie Batch retired, Byron Leftwich was released, and the Steelers signed Dennis Dixon and another veteran quarterback to be the second backup quarterback on the roster.  How does Bruce Gradkowski sound?

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Super Bowl XLV Preview: The Quarterbacks

January 28, 2011 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

This is Part 2 of our 9-part Super Bowl XLV Preview series.

To read the other parts of this series, click the appropriate link below:

Part 1:  Super Bowl XLV Preview -  Team overviews

Part 2:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The quarterbacks

Part 3:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Offensive Lines

Part 4:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Receivers

Part 5:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Running Backs

Part 6:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Defensive Lines

Part 7:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Linebackers

Part 8:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - The Defensive Backs

Part 9:  Super Bowl XLV Preview - Putting it all together

Today we’re going to be evaluating the two quarterbacks who will be participating in Super Bowl XLV; Ben Roethlisberger & Aaron Rodgers.

Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger are two quarterbacks who present very similar challenges for their opposition.  Both can kill you with their arms, and both have to be contained because they’re dangerous when they get outside of the pocket.  Yet, when you look at the specifics of how they get it done, the two quarterbacks are very different.

Aaron Rodgers is more of a prototype quarterback.  He has a perfect throwing motion, and he is one of the most accurate passers in the NFL.  If you wanted to film a “how-to” video for quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers would likely be the guy that you’d get to star in the video.  He hasn’t accomplished as much in the league as some quarterbacks have, but it’s not because he lacks the required skills.

Rodgers had the 3rd highest quarterback rating in the NFL in 2010, trailing only Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.  He threw for 3,922 yards and 28 touchdowns.

The Packers rely on Aaron Rodgers far more than the Steelers rely on Big Ben.  This is primarily because the Packers don’t  have a rushing attack that is of any significance. The Packers were 24th in the NFL in rushing, and they just barely reached 100 total rushing yards per game.  They had only 3 runs during the regular season that exceeded 20 yards.  By contrast, the Steelers had 16 runs of 20 yards or more in the regular season.

Because the Packers are so dependent on Aaron Rodgers, their fate is completely tied to his.  Rodgers missed two games late in the year due to injury, and the Packers lost both of them.

In addition to his laser-like passes, Aaron Rodgers is also a legitimate running threat.  In fact, he may be the best running quarterback in the NFL who is not named Michael Vick.  Rodgers ran for 356 yards on 64 carries in 2010.  Ben Roethlisberger is also know for being a threat with his legs, but he uses his legs primarily to extend the play.  He doesn’t tend to run for yardage the way Rodgers does.  To illustrate this fact, Roethlisberger only had 176 yards on 34 attempts in 2010.  That’s about half of Aaron Rodgers’ numbers.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Unlike Rodgers, Big Ben isn’t a prototype quarterback.  He doesn’t have perfect throwing form, and he isn’t nearly as accurate as Aaron Rodgers.  Roethlisberger’s primary asset is his size and his will to win.  Those aren’t standard attributes that most people look for in a quarterback, but they serve Ben well.

Most quarterback coaches would chastise Big Ben for his unwillingness to throw the ball away and avoid a sack.  They’d also try to break him of his habit of holding onto the ball too long to extend the play.  But Steelers fans know that some of Ben’s best plays come when he is running around playing “sandlot football”.  While it’s unorthodox, it’s effective nonetheless.

Ben’s other great strength is his size.  There’s a reason they call him “Big Ben”.  Until you actually stand next to him, you don’t quite realize just how big he is.  Ben is HUGE.  Just watch him standing next to some of his teammates.  He’s much bigger than linebackers like James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, or James Harrison.  His bio lists him as 6’5″ and 241 pounds, but I’m sure that’s inaccurate.  I’d estimate that he weighs somewhere between 250-255 lbs.  So sending a 5’9″, 190 pound cornerback on a blitz might not be the best strategy to stop him.

Bart Scott, the former Baltimore Raven and current New York Jet, said that tackling Ben is “like trying to tackle a polar bear”.  It’s hard to prepare for him, because most teams don’t have a quarterback on their roster who’s big enough to imitate him in practice.

Despite Ben’s unorthodox approach to the quarterback position, he is absolutely clutch.  When the Steelers need him to make a big play, he does.  Just ask the Arizona Cardinals.  Or the Baltimore Ravens.  Or the New York Jets.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Ben doesn’t play in a system that allows him to pass for 4,000 yards per year like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees do.  So he’ll never get the accolades that those guys do.  But when it’s all said and done, Ben may end up having more Super Bowl rings than any of them.

Super Bowl XLV promises to be a great game.  The two teams match up well against one another.  And the most interesting match-up of them all may be Aaron Rodgers vs. Ben Roethlisberger.  This one should be a battle for the ages.


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Roethlisberger returns, Steelers win

October 18, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

Heeeeeeee’s back!

The story that has overshadowed every other aspect of the Steelers’ season so far has finally drawn to a close.  Big Ben is back.   He made his Steelers regular season debut Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Ben looked rusty at first, but he quickly worked his way through it.  Roethlisberger threw an interception on the Steelers very first possession, but after that, he calmed down and had a very successful return.

Personally, the play that made me feel certain that the old Big Ben was back was when he had Mike Wallace wide open on a fly pattern mid-way through the third quarter.  Wallace had his man completely beat, and would have easily scored.  However, Roethlisberger under-threw the pass, and Wallace had to slow down for the ball.  This allowed the defender to tackle Wallace.  That is exactly what Ben did most of last year when Wallace was wide open.  So it’s good to see that Ben is back to his old self (sort of).

Roethlisberger finished the game with 257 yards passing, 3 TD’s, and one interception.  That’s much better than the 136 passing yards that the Steelers had been averaging during Roethlisberger’s absence.

Ben receives cheers in his return.

Roethlisberger found Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller for touchdown passes.  Rashard Mendenhall also added a rushing touchdown.

Of course, the defense played too.  They held Cleveland to 3 points for most of the game until the Browns scored a late touchdown with about 4 minutes remaining in the game.

James Harrison, in particular, seemed like he was ready to play.  Harrison led the teams in tackles, and quarterback hurries, and forced fumbles.  Some might say that it was a pretty typical game for Harrison.

However, what wasn’t typical was the bone crushing hits that Harrison kept laying on the Cleveland Players.  I started to think that perhaps one of the Browns had said something insulting about Harrisons mother.  Whatever the reason, Harrison played with violent intentions.  He knocked Josh Cribbs out of the game early with a vicious hit.  Later, he almost decapitated Cleveland WR Mohamed Massaquoi.

Harrison will probably get fined for at least one of the hits.  But frankly, I love it when he’s intimidating the opposition like that.  I think that both running backs and wide receivers think twice about coming his way when they know Harrison is out for blood.

The only thing that could make the day even better would be a loss by the hated Baltimore Ravens.  And guess what?  The  Patriots beat the Ravens in overtime.  So with a record of 4-1, the Steelers stand alone at the top of the AFC North.  Exactly where they should be.

Other Steelers notes:

On a separate note, Hines Ward’s touchdown in the third quarter put him ahead of former teammate Jerome Bettis for second place on the Steelers’ all-time touchdown list.  Ward now has 81 touchdowns as a Steeler.  Former Steelers great Franco Harris holds the all-time record with 100 touchdowns.

Ward also moved into 4th place on the NFL’s record book for consecutive games with at least one catch.  Ward surpassed Hall-of-Famer Art Monk with catches in 183 straight games.


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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns preview

October 14, 2010 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

This Sunday, the Steelers and the Browns will renew one of the oldest rivalries in the NFL.  These two teams have been facing one another since 1950.

The Steelers hold a slim lead in the all-time regular season series 58-56.  However, the Steelers have owned the Browns of late.  The Steelers had won 12 straight games in the series until the Browns finally got a win last December in Cleveland.

The Browns won that game 13-6, but the game was much more lopsided than the score indicated.  Frankly, the Browns beat the #%$&*! out of the Steelers.  They sacked Ben Roethlisberger 8 times during that game.  The Browns threw so many blitzes at Big Ben that he probably started wondering if his offensive line was even trying to protect him.

For that reason, it is important for the Steelers to make sure that they don’t take the Browns for granted.  Despite their 1-4 record, the Browns are actually a good team.  Stop laughing, I’m being serious.

The Browns are the best 1-4 team in the NFL.  I know that sounds odd, but it’s true.  Several of their losses could have easily been wins.  They lost by only 3 points to Tampa Bay.  Then they lost by 2 points to a surprisingly good Kansas City Chiefs team.  Then in week 3, they were beating the Baltimore Ravens until the Ravens made a late comeback to beat the Browns in the closing minutes of the game.  They followed that near-win against Baltimore with a win over the reigning AFC North champs, the Cincinnati Bengals.  And then finally they suffered a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week.  So the  Browns’ 4 losses have been by an average of only 5 points per game.  That indicates that they are playing all of their opponents close.  Underestimating this team would be a BIG mistake.

Of course the story of this game is going to be the quarterbacks.

Big Ben will be making his regular season debut with the Steelers, following his 4 game suspension.  In Ben’s absence, the Steelers have gone 3-1, but they did that mainly by running the ball and playing good defense.

The Steelers are ranked last in the NFL in passing.  That’s right, dead last.  Number 32 in the league.  They are only averaging 136 passing yards per game.  Those sound like rushing numbers, not passing numbers.

I'm baaaaaaaaack!

With Big Ben back in the lineup, there is little doubt that the Steelers’ passing attack is going to get a boost.  In fact, based on what Roethlisberger did last year, the Steelers’ passing offense should become one of the top 10 in the NFL.

Of course, quarterback is going to be the position to watch for the Browns as well.  The Browns have gone through quarterbacks almost as quickly as the Steelers have this season.  Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are both out with injuries, so rookie Colt McCoy will be making his first start on Sunday.

Browns QB Colt McCoy

McCoy was a highly touted quarterback who played for Texas in College.  Many thought McCoy would be drafted earlier, but he slipped to the Browns in the third round.

If there is one defense that McCoy probably doesn’t want to make his NFL debut against, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is probably going to throw some things at McCoy that the rookie has never even dreamed of, much less seen.

As was mentioned earlier, the Browns are not a team to be taken lightly.  However, with the added pressure of starting a rookie quarterback, this game will likely prove to be too much for the Browns.  Big Ben should start his 2010 season with a win, and the Steelers will improve their record to 4-1.

With Big Ben back in the lineup, the stairway to seven is not nearly as steep.

Here we go Steelers, here we go!


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Steelers win 24-17 over Giants

August 22, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 2-0 in the preseason, after defeating the New York Giants 24-17.  The Giants were without starting quarterback Eli Manning, who is still recovering from an injury received during the Giants’ first preseason game.

Though Eli Manning didn’t play, one quarterback who DID play was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben did not play in the Steelers first preseason game, but he was the starter for this game.

Ben looked a bit rusty, and the rust was evident in his statistics.  Roethlisberger completed 6 of 8 passes for 76 yards.  However he was sacked once, and he threw an interception during his short time in the game.  And as he usually does, Big Ben held onto the ball waaaaaaay too long.  Because of this, he was often running for his life.  The Steelers’ porous offensive line didn’t help the situation.  New York Giants players were constantly in the Steelers’ backfield applying pressure.

Big Ben passes under pressure.

Big Ben ended his short stint in the game with a sub-par 64.6 quarterback rating, the lowest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks who played during the game.

When the second quarter began, Roethlisberger was replaced by Byron Leftwich at quarterback.  Like Roethlisberger, Leftwich was constantly under pressure.  However, unlike Roethlisberger, Leftwich got rid of the ball.

On one play in particular, Leftwich made a play which we seldom see from Roethlisberger.  Leftwich saw speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace racing down the field, and he threw the ball past him so that Wallace could run under the ball and catch it in stride.  Steelers fans have gotten used to seeing Roethlisberger under-throw Wallace on his deep routes so Wallace usually has to come back to the ball rather than catch it in stride.  Because Wallace was able to catch the ball in stride, the play resulted in a 68 yard touchdown.

Leftwich played the entire second quarter, and completed 3 of six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.  His final quarterback rating was 135.4, the highest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks.

In the second half, Dennis Dixon started at quarterback, and he played the entire half.  Just like he did against the Detroit Lions, Dixon appeared to be the most effective of the Steelers’ quarterbacks.  He marched the team down the field for touchdowns on both of his first two offensive series.  Dixon also provided a running threat that neither of the other quarterbacks offer.  On one play, Dixon broke a 22 yard run that he probably could have gotten into the end zone.  However he was running along the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds.

Dixon completed 7 of the 8 passes that he attempted.  He ended the game with 82 passing yards and a 109.4 quarterback rating.

So just like in the Steelers’ first preseason game, Dennis Dixon made a strong argument for why he, rather than Byron Leftwich, should be the Steelers starter during Ben Roethlisberger’s 4-6 game suspension.

Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin may ultimately decide to go with Leftwich as the starter, but Dixon is certainly making his decision much more difficult than he anticipated.

Other points of interest:

  • Punter Dan Sepulveda handled all of the kick-offs for the Steelers’ second preseason game.  Sepulveda practiced kick-offs regularly during Steelers Training Camp, but was not called upon to kick-off during the team’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions.  Several of Sepulveda’s kicks seemed short.  However, he did get 2 of his 6 kick-offs into the end zone, and one was downed for a touchback.  Last week, Jeff Reed only got one of his 5 kicks into the endzone, and none were downed for touchbacks.
  • Rookie Antonio Brown handled the majority of the Steelers’ kick and punt return duties last night.  He averaged 10.8 yards on 4 punt returns, the longest of which was for 18 yards.  He also averaged 25 yards on 2 kickoff returns.
  • Isaac Redman once again made a strong case for being the backup to starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.  Redman rushed for 34 yards on six carries.  He also scored a touchdown.

Isaac Redman scores TD.

  • Justin Vincent was the Steelers’ leading rusher with 37 yards on 6 carries.  However, most of his carries came in the 2nd half against the Giants’ second and third string defenses
  • Rashard Mendenhall didn’t look particularly impressive running the ball.  He carried the ball 8 times for a total of 11 yards.  His 1.4 yards per carry was the lowest among the Steelers’ running backs.  He also continues to do that annoying spin move anytime he senses contact coming.  Mendenhall almost seems reluctant to face contact head-on.
  • Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor was ejected from the game after getting in a fight in the opening minutes of the game.  Dumb, Ike.  Really dumb.


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