Roethlisberger, Rodgers share some history
Quarterbacks, occasional golf partners and friends, Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay Packers counterpart Aaron Rodgers are kindred spirits in another facet of their lives:
On the field, they absorb punishment on a regular basis.
Rodgers has been sacked 48 times, the most in the NFL, and Roethlisberger is on his way to getting sacked more than 45 times — again — this season. The Steelers' quarterback has taken such a beating over the past half decade that it is worth pondering whether the cumulative effect of the hits will shorten the six-year veteran's career.
"The answer is yes, but that's what football does to the human body," said former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, an analyst for the NFL Network. "It's been said the body can take a certain amount of hits, at any position, not just quarterback. Football is a very physical sport."
Roethlisberger and Rodgers will meet today when the Steelers (6-7) face the Packers (9-4) at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger has been sacked an average of 46.3 times per season since 2006 and is on pace to get dropped more than 47 times this season. Roethlisberger has missed at least one game every season except for 2007 because of an injury.
It's a wonder Rodgers has not missed at least one game this season, given the abuse he has taken.
The second-year starter was sacked eight times by the Minnesota Vikings in an early October game. Rodgers went down six times apiece in back-to-back games in early November.
"I know this for our offense, is no one wants to give up the big hits because you don't want the quarterback getting hit," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, a Greenfield native. "Everything we do from a design standpoint is to not get the quarterback hit."
Even if the Steelers took the same approach, Roethlisberger would still take his share of shots because of his derring-do on the field.
That style has allowed him to win two Super Bowls before the age of 28. Yet his propensity to hold onto the ball in an attempt to make a play has also made Roethlisberger more prone to getting hit than most quarterbacks.
"He's a full gunslinger," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) likes to call him John Wayne."
Roethlisberger showed a rarely seen cautious side recently.
After sustaining a concussion Nov. 22, Roethlisberger didn't play the following week in Baltimore because he experienced exercise-induced headaches leading up to the game.
He later talked about the importance of taking the hot-button issue of head injuries seriously — as he did in being truthful with Steelers doctors about his post-concussion symptoms.
"You do have to think about your future and your family. It's not fun, but you can get knee replacement surgery, you can have rotator cuff surgery, but you can't get a new brain," Roethlisberger said. "If I have headaches, if I have symptoms, I am going to let them know because it's not worth losing your life over."
Roethlisberger has sustained three football-related concussions since joining the Steelers in 2004. He also suffered head and facial injuries in a motorcycle accident in June 2006.
Dr. Julian Bailes, who heads the neurosurgery department at West Virginia University, has said three or more concussions during a career can put players more at risk of depression later in life as well as cognitive and memory problems.
Bailes' conclusion, which has been published, followed a study of retired players that was commissioned by the National Football League Players' Association.
He said three is not an "absolute number" because much is still murky about the long-term effects of concussions. The former Steelers doctor did say, "I do believe after a certain number (of concussions) that threshold (for getting another one) is lowered."
That did not appear to be foremost on Roethlisberger's mind in his first game back from his latest concussion.
In the fourth quarter against Oakland, a broken play turned sensible Ben into swashbuckling Ben.
Instead of assuming the fetal position after he turned to hand off to Rashard Mendenhall — the second-year running back had run the other way — Roethlisberger lowered his head and banged his way for an 8-yard gain.
"That's who he is and that's who we want him to be," said defensive end Brett Keisel, Roethlisberger's closest friend on the Steelers. "I think that's what the fans and the organization want him to be. They want him to be himself; they want him to be that innovative guy that makes things happen out on the field on Sundays."
That could come at a cost — and may ultimately compromise Roethlisberger's stated goal of winning five Super Bowls.
Terry Bradshaw, whose four Super Bowl victories Roethlisberger is trying to eclipse, was sacked 1.82 times per game during his career. John Elway, whom Roethlisberger grew up idolizing and patterned his game after, was sacked 2.21 times a game during his career.
Roethlisberger, by comparison, has been sacked 2.77 times a game.
And, as with any quarterback, the hits Roethlisberger has absorbed are exponentially greater than the number of times the 6-foot-5, 241-pounder has been sacked.
"The beating will definitely take a toll over time, but at this point I don't think we've seen any evidence that it is hurting his productivity," said former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer. "Is there a chance that instead of playing 15 years at a high level he plays 10 or 11 years at a high level• I think that's a possibility.
"But I think if you're Ben and you're the Pittsburgh Steelers and if you're a fan, you'll take that tradeoff because he is as dangerous a quarterback in the NFL as there is to play right now."
Rodgers also is coming into his own for the Packers, leading them to five consecutive wins heading into today's game.
Having taken over as the starting quarterback on a veteran-laden team and for a storied franchise, Roethlisberger can attest to the kind of pressure Rodgers dealt with when he succeeded the legendary Brett Favre in Green Bay.
"We've had some pretty candid talks in the past and it hasn't been easy for him and it's never easy to replace someone like that," Roethlisberger said. "I really commend him for the way he's done it and the way he's been able to play."
Not just aches and pains
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has sustained his share of injuries since becoming the team's quarterback in September of 2004. Here is a list of notable injuries Roethlisberger has sustained:
» Leaves late December game with bruised ribs shortly after getting hit by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs; held out of regular-season finale the following week with home-field advantage in playoffs clinched.
» Hyperextends his left knee in October game at San Diego; misses following week's game against Jacksonville.
» Undergoes surgery for torn meniscus in his right knee in early November and misses three consecutive games.
» Suffers serious head and facial injuries in June motorcycle accident.
» Undergoes emergency appendectomy and misses season opener against the Dolphins.
» Helmet to helmet hit by Falcons defensive end Chauncey Davis forces Roethlisberger to leave October game with a concussion.
» Suffers a spinal concussion after getting hit by Browns linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Willie McGinest in a late December game; stays down for 10 minutes and is taken off the field on a stretcher as a precaution.
» Strains right Achilles heel near end of final practice at training camp when he and left tackle Max Starks get their feet tangled; doesn't play in preseason game at Washington as a precaution.
» Leaves November game in Kansas City with a concussion after getting kneed in helmet by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson; is held out of following week's game when he experiences exercise-induced headaches leading up to it.
Ben Roethlisberger is often mentioned when it comes to the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Here is how many times he and some of his peers have been sacked since 2004, Roethlisberger's first season:
Player, Team: G/Sacks
Peyton Manning, Colts: 93⁄89
Drew Brees, Chargers/Saints: 92/107
Brett Favre, Packers/Jets/Vikings: 93/129
*Tom Brady, Patriots: 93⁄146
Donovan McNabb, Eagles: 75⁄166
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: 84/230
*—2003-09; missed 2008 season with knee injury
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