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Steelers

Prescott's rookie success compares to Big Ben's start

Chris Adamski
| Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, 7:06 p.m.
The Cowboys' Dak Prescott looks to pass against the Browns on Nov. 6, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium on in Cleveland, Ohio.
Getty Images
The Cowboys' Dak Prescott looks to pass against the Browns on Nov. 6, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium on in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Cowboys' Dak Prescott rushes in the first half against the Browns' Carl Nassib on Nov. 6, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Getty Images
The Cowboys' Dak Prescott rushes in the first half against the Browns' Carl Nassib on Nov. 6, 2016 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to win — let alone win big.

That Ben Roethlisberger did (12 years ago) and Dak Prescott is (now) suggests they inevitably will be compared heading into Sunday's game in which they will operate as opposing quarterbacks.

The two won't be mistaken for carbon copies of each other. But they might be more alike than you think — and there's one way that the respective stellar rookie seasons for Roethlisberger and Prescott are eerily similar.

Try one-tenth-of-a-point similar.

Prescott has a 104.2 passer rating in his first eight NFL starts in leading the Dallas Cowboys to a 7-1 record. In 2004, when Roethlisberger was winning his first eight starts for the Steelers, his passer rating was 104.1.

“He's been awesome,” Roethlisberger said this week about Prescott. “Very similar to what I had (as a rookie). He's got a great running game and a good defense, a great defense.

“He's not just managing games. He's taking games over and doing some pretty awesome stuff. It's fun to watch.”

The game has changed since 2004, and owed to subtle rule changes and the concussion epidemic, passing is much more prevalent. So comparing the raw numbers of Roethlisberger then and Prescott now doesn't tell the full story.

Prescott has thrown for nearly 50 percent more yards (2,020 vs. 1,412 for Roethlisberger in his first eight games) and has a slightly better touchdown-to-interception ratio (12 to 2 as opposed to 10 to 4). But Roethlisberger scores better when it comes to completion percentage (69.7-66.5) and yards per attempt (8.2-8.1).

Roethlisberger also has a slight edge in the most important category: wins. But just barely.

Roethlisberger went on to go 13-0 as a rookie starter, and he won a divisional round playoff game. But a loss in the AFC championship game at home to New England still stings.

Dallas has emerged as an NFC favorite under Prescott. And some of the same adjectives that were attached to Roethlisberger a dozen years ago are being applied to him.

“(Prescott's) poise and composure are outstanding,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Through adversity, through success, he just continues to be the same guy in every situation, which is a really good quality to have, particularly for quarterbacks.”

Dallas linebacker Sean Lee relayed the story of the first training-camp practice in which Prescott faced the first-team defense. Then-starter Tony Romo, because of his veteran status, typically takes off sessions. When this happens, the defense will perk up.

“When a rookie comes in at quarterback, you think defensively, ‘Hey, we're going to be able to get near the football and… get some interceptions,' ” said Lee, who graduated from Upper St. Clair and Penn State.

“Well, halfway through practice we found out he's not playing like a rookie. It was hard to get to the football. He was looking off people and making great throws. So we knew with how he was approaching the game in camp that he was going to be a great player. And it's been unbelievable to watch, he's handled it so well.”

What Prescott has also handled well are the constant questions surrounding when (or if) Romo will be permitted to reclaim his job now that his recovery from a preseason back injury nears completion.

Roethlisberger, similarly, initially earned the starter's gig because of injury. But the circumstances then were different — he was the No. 11 overall pick; Prescott was a fourth-round draft choice. Romo is a four-time Pro Bowler; the man who Roethlisberger replaced, Tommy Maddox, was largely remembered as a journeyman.

So while the debate rages in Dallas about who should start when Romo is 100 percent, the choice was much easier for Steelers coach Bill Cowher 12 years ago.

Roethlisberger can't recall the exact moment or week in which he had been told — or in which he knew — he had earned the gig. That didn't stop him from offering an opinion on the Cowboys conundrum.

“When you're just kind of rolling and you're not losing games, it's really hard to kind of change — at that position, especially,” Roethlisberger said. “Taking nothing away from Tony. He's been doing it… at a high level. But when you're winning football games, it's really hard to replace that one spot (quarterback).”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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