How do we define a great season for an NFL quarterback? Do we look at touchdown passes or touchdowns to interception ratio? Do we look at yards per attempt or do we just go with passer rating? Or is it all about wins versus losses that define a great or best season?
If we look at the greatest QB seasons in NFL history, we’ll find both similar and different names at the top of those lists. This is why determining a quarterback’s ‘best’ season is always difficult.
The discussion has come up in many quarters regarding just where this current season ranks for the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve heard more than one person say this is his best overall season and I’ve heard others say it might not even be in the top three.
If you want to go by purely his passer rating then look straight to 2007 (104.1) and 2009 (100.5). In those two years, Roethlisberger had TD to INT ratios of 32-11 and 26-12. His completion percentages in those two years were 65.3% in ’07 and 66.6% in ’09. Those two stats rank among his top three seasons in completion percentage with the third being his rookie season when he completed 66.4% of his passes.
Team success was decent but not great in those two years. Roethlisberger was 10-5 in the 15 games he started in 2007 and he was 9-6 in the 15 games he started in 2009. The latter season saw the team finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs. A brutal five game losing streak mid-season did them in while in 2007, they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild-Card game.
So where do we rank Roethlisberger’s current season? With one game to play, he has 27 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions. His passer rating sits at 93.7 and his completion percentage is at 64.4% which is about one full percent higher than his career average. He also has 4,082 passing yards which compares closely to his 2009 total of over 4,300 yards.
In his 2007 season, he threw for just 3,154 yards or in other words, about a full thousand yards less than in the current season or in 2009. Does this mean that we should through that year out of consideration? No, because it all depends on what you classify a ‘great’ season as.
I could make the argument that 2011 was his best season for a couple of reasons. First, he had a TD to INT ratio of 21-14, a completion percentage of 63.2% and a passer rating of 90.1. Not his best numbers but…. The team that year finished 12-4 and had to settle for a wild-card because they lost the tie-breaker to 12-4 Baltimore who defeated the Steelers twice that season.
The Steelers would lose to 8-8 Denver and Tim Tebow in overtime in the Wild-Card game.
So why would I consider 2011 one of his best years? While the 40 sacks were one thing, Roethlisberger dealt with leg injuries that really started in week two when he took a shot by a Seattle defender. The bigger blow came in a home win over Cleveland in week 14. He suffered a serious high-ankle sprain and was never the same for the rest of the season.
When you throw in those factors and that the team went 12-4, that’s a pretty damn good season.
The only person that can tell you what Roethlisberger’s best season has been to this point is Ben himself. I am not going to classify this current season as his best because the rocky start is hard to avoid in any discussion. I believe his work in the no-huddle offense is what makes this season a contender though.
He has not only shown the ability to be the ‘cerebral’ quarterback many feel he is not, but he also has helped put guys like Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in positions to achieve great success. If you wanted to tell me that you felt this was his best season I could listen, but I could also listen to arguments for other seasons as well.
It’s easy to point to a QB who leads the NFL in touchdowns and yards and whose team has 12 wins and say, “that’s his best season,” but if you really know and understand football and the quarterback position then you can understand why numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Defining Ben Roethlisberger’s ‘best’ season is similar because we all have different opinions on what creates the term ‘best.’
My guess is that Roethlisberger would say his best season is one that ends with a Super Bowl win.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 630pm ET talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.