BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Ben Roethlisberger sometimes goes overlooked in the discussion of the league’s best quarterbacks.
He shouldn’t, multiple NFL head coaches say.
From the NFL owners meetings last week, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer all said Roethlisberger belongs among the top guys.
Lewis and Arians, in particular, pointed out the Pittsburgh Steelers' long-standing defensive reputation hurts Roethlisberger’s cause.
“Right in the top three,” said Arians, Roethlisberger’s offensive coordinator from 2007-11, about Roethlisberger’s ranking. “I don’t know who the other two are ... I feel like he is [No. 1]. He’s won two Super Bowls. He’s done all the things the other guys have done. He doesn’t get the credit for it.”
A partially subjective quarterback conversation almost always includes Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, sometimes includes the younger group such as Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, and typically places Roethlisberger somewhere in that mix, depending on the year.
For much of his career, Roethlisberger was known more for winning than for passing stats. The past two years, however, he’s averaged nearly 318 passing yards per game. At age 34, Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a good three to four more prime years for the franchise to build around.
Considering those passing stats, Arians joked that the Steelers offensive staff opened things up “without getting fired,” a nod to Arians’ clumsy "retirement" announcement in early 2012.
Zimmer said he judges quarterbacks by whether they give their teams a chance to win every week. Only a “handful” of guys do that, he said.
“Roethlisberger, Brady, Rodgers, those guys, when they have the ball in their hands at the end of the game, it’s scary for a defense,” Zimmer said. “[Roethlisberger] is a great competitor, throws the ball extremely well. He’s very much like really all the great quarterbacks. Over the years, we gave him some of the best hits he's ever had and he gets up and shakes them off.”
Zimmer recalls a moment from his tenure as Bengals defensive coordinator when he called a blitz and two defenders went completely unblocked. Roethlisberger pump-faked, got past both of them and threw a touchdown, Zimmer said.
“He should be [among the best], for what he’s done,” said Lewis, who has coached against the Steelers twice a year in all 12 of Roethlisberger's years. “He’s been a tremendous quarterback but also probably a better leader of the football team.”
These three coaches all have AFC North experience with Roethlisberger, leaving Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as a more neutral voice. Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 39-30 loss at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 29.
When asked which quarterbacks were the most difficult to prepare for in 2015, Carroll said Newton and Brady. "There's no one who can possibly create more problems [than Newton]," Carroll said. When asked where Roethlisberger stood in that process, Carroll added Roethlisberger is “as difficult” to devise game plans against as anyone.
“He’s in the same kind of mold when preparing for him,” Carroll said. “He has a different element where he can escape differently, and he becomes a whole different set of problems. He’s as difficult to prepare for. They have a wide open system and a commitment to a great quarterback.”
The way Arians sees it, Roethlisberger and 1970s great Terry Bradshaw deal with similar issues regarding perception: being secondary to Pittsburgh’s defense.
But perhaps that’s changing.
“Sometimes outside looking in, they say Steelers, that’s defense, but it’s really Ben,” Arians said. “We don’t win any of those Super Bowls without him.”