Ed Bouchette on the Steelers: A weekly look inside the team, the issues, the questions

As bad as things might seem in Steeler Nation, do not -- repeat, do not -- pull the quarterback

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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger's QB rating of 41.7 barely registers on the NFL charts.
Click photo for larger image.

There could be worse suggestions to try to cure the Steelers' three-game losing streak than the one to bench quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Trade him for Randy Moss or Terrell Owens, perhaps. Or bring back Kordell Stewart.

Teams that go through tough times always receive wacko suggestions from the fans and, yes, the sports media. Usually, they involve benching someone in favor of another player, trying a different offensive or defensive strategy or, as often is the case involving the Steelers, switching from their 3-4 defense to the four-man front, the one that spawned the Steel Curtain.

And, if you're the quarterback who is not playing particularly well, they want you to sit.

Charlie Batch may be the most competent backup quarterback the Steelers have had under Bill Cowher. Nevertheless, it's not only a dreadful idea to bench Roethlisberger today, it would be a terrible one at any point in this season, and you can bet Cowher won't even think about it.

He did that earlier in his career and, if you could put his hand to the fire, might admit today that he was wrong. It involved a quarterback of less stature and accomplishments than Roethlisberger, Stewart. He helped them reach the AFC championship game in the 1997 season, losing to John Elway and the Denver Broncos, 24-21, because of questionable coaching strategy near the end of the first half.

Cowher then made an appalling hire when he brought in Ray Sherman to be his offensive coordinator, which lasted one season. Stewart and the Steelers fell on hard times with a 7-9 record in 1998 and Cowher made his quarterback a scapegoat when he pulled him from a game at Tampa Bay late that season.

The Steelers, though, opened the 1999 season with victories on the road at Cleveland and Baltimore. Stewart completed 33 of 50 passes for 311 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in those games. But Cowher yanked him again in the middle of the third game for Mike Tomczak. Later in the year, he handed the job to Tomczak and, with him at quarterback, the Steelers lost four of their final five games to go 6-10.

What was accomplished? Stewart, although he had one more good season in 2001, was essentially eviscerated early in a promising career and the Steelers never got back to a championship game until Ben Roethlisberger helped them to two in his first two seasons, the last one ending with a Super Bowl championship.

This is the franchise quarterback the Steelers have been awaiting for a generation. He got off to the best two-year start of any quarterback in history, both in his own success and his team's. If you go by passer ratings, his first two seasons are the top two in Steelers history. You don't throw that away because of a three-game losing streak in which Roethlisberger did not play well.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Did the hook come too quickly for Kordell Stewart?
Click photo for larger image.Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Charlie Batch is a can of worms that would just keep on giving.
Click photo for larger image.

Do you think the Bengals would bench Carson Palmer under similar circumstances? The Giants, Eli Manning? Even in his first season as a starter, the Chargers, Philip Rivers?

There are many reasons for not replacing Roethlisberger, even temporarily. The best one is his track record. Another is that all three losses are not all his fault (it wasn't Roethlisberger who sent Ricardo Colclough into the game in the fourth quarter to field punts against the Bengals).

Yet another is that he's your man. Did the Steelers replace Bill Cowher after three consecutive seasons out of the playoffs? No, they extended his contract and gave him a raise because they felt strongly he was a good coach and would turn things around. They also don't need to do to Roethlisberger what they did to Stewart.

Say, for instance, the Steelers started Batch today, he plays well and they beat the Chiefs. What do you do next week, coach? Start him at Atlanta, of course. The Steelers beat the Falcons to go to 3-3. Now what? Keep Batch in. For argument's purposes, let's say Batch comes under a heavy rush in Oakland (hard as that is to believe), throws three interceptions and the Raiders upset the Steelers.

They return home to play Denver. Now what do you do, coach? Do you try Batch again, or go back to Big Ben? This won't end here, either, because now that you've opened up that can, the worms will be flowing out the rest of the season, and the ones after that. Every time a quarterback has a bad game or two, whether it's your starter or, if he's benched, the backup, you will be second-guessed by fans, the media and, most importantly, your players and assistant coaches.

Look at Nick Saban in Miami, the latest genius coach to land in the NFL. The Dolphins, who haven't had a quarterback since Dan Marino retired, made a big move in the offseason to acquire veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He arrived after a knee injury last year, went through every workout they asked him to do, and then he's benched after four games in favor of Joey Harrington, who could not make it in Detroit. Think Saban has a problem in his locker room these days?

Quarterbacks are not untouchables, but if you get a good one, you stick with him. If you get a great one, it's not even a temptation. That's why the thought of replacing Ben Roethlisberger probably will not even cross Bill Cowher's mind.


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