A lot of topics will be kicked around this week surrounding the epic battle between the Packers and Steelers, but you have to start by talking about the two quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have some strong similarities, but they also have some stark differences to their games.
The biggest similarity is that Rodgers and Roethlisberger are both mobile and very elusive in the pocket, making them difficult to sack. Their athleticism allows them to move their feet but still maintain accuracy on throws. Both are capable of beating defenses even without great protection up front, and both are equally capable of making plays with their legs as well as their arms.
In my mind, though, the differences between Rodgers and Roethlisberger are more compelling.
Rodgers, like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, is a rhythm quarterback. He wants to make his plays during the early seconds of each down – make his drop, get the ball out and complete passes in sync regarding the depth of his drop and where he expects his receivers to be. He’s more comfortable making plays on time and on schedule.
Roethlisberger is quite the opposite. He wants to extend plays into what I call the second and third phases, where coverages break down on the back-end and it becomes more like backyard football. He’s more comfortable throwing in those situations. The reason why he’s so effective doing this is because defenses just can’t cover for 10 seconds. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey told me that the Steelers linemen know they have to hold blocks for an extended period. With other quarterbacks, the play is over by then.
This is the facet of the game where Dom Capers’ defense will be tested since no defense can be designed to cover for that long. The interception by NT B.J. Raji during the NFC Championship Game was an example of what happens when QBs throw in rhythm against a zone-blitz defense. If a quarterback waits and waits, Raji never makes that play. The receivers detach from coverage and get open, and Roethlisberger finds them.
The quarterback matchup in Super Bowl XLV goes to Roethlisberger, because of his ability to break down the traditional concepts of defense. When coverages can’t hold up and the quarterback has beaten the initial pass rush, it turns to street ball. Defenses can’t defend it, and Roethlisberger is the best at it.
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