By Rob Rossi
November 14, 2015
Almost every week, Darrius Heyward-Bey sees Steelers opponents trying the same trick. It almost always fails.
“A lot of teams, against us, use 2-man (coverage),” he said. “It's because we have the best receiver in the NFL.”
That receiver, Antonio Brown, might run football's finest routes. It's how he always appears to be open.
The catch is, he's normally not.
But the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger. And Big Ben can throw a football through small windows.
“We're able to adjust, but it's because he can put the ball into those little areas,” Heyward-Bey said. “Accuracy, to us, is being able to throw the ball anywhere. And Ben makes the hardest throws look easy.”
The Steelers have been living on Easy Street for so long that it's tough to remember what life was like before Roethlisberger fell to the franchise as the 11th pick at the 2004 NFL Draft.
So pay close attention to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. They're what life is like when Roethlisberger isn't your favorite team's quarterback.
Life is hard.
Life is hopeless.
Life is regrettable.
The Browns picked a tight end over a future Hall of Fame quarterback. That tight end was Kellen Winslow II. And that future Hall of Fame quarterback was an Ohio boy.
Small windows, man.
Elite quarterbacks fling footballs through them. Elite franchises take advantage when they open.
As Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert tells the story, Dan Rooney was adamant about only one thing after watching Roethlisberger work out before that 2004 draft. The Steelers didn't usually pick near the top 10. Just because they were slotted at No. 11 didn't mean they needed to reach for a quarterback.
If they could get a quarterback in that draft, Rooney wanted Roethlisberger.
The Steelers chairman had seen only one other quarterback prospect make the throws Roethlisberger made in that workout.
That quarterback was Terry Bradshaw.
Every NFL owner would want to draft the next Bradshaw. He's one of three quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls.
But 10 owners passed on Roethlisberger, who during the past few seasons has knocked Bradshaw from the top spots in the Steelers record book. He's up to more than 40,000 passing yards, 258 touchdowns and 109 regular-season wins.
Roethlisberger still trails in the category that counts most. He has won two of his three Super Bowls.
He also is one of only four AFC quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl during the past 12 years.
The Browns have not been to the playoffs since passing on Roethlisberger with the sixth pick in 2004. But it might be more notable the Browns have lost their only playoff game since returning to the NFL.
Except there's that not-so-small point about the Browns never having been to a Super Bowl.
(Sorry, but late former owner Art Modell's win with the Baltimore Ravens doesn't count.)
Since 1999 when the NFL rightfully resurrected the Browns in Cleveland, the various owners of the franchise have turned football's most important position into a dark comedy.
There was Tim Couch. Today, there is Johnny Manziel.
In between, there has been a group that included other touted college stars (Brady Quinn), castoffs attempting to reclaim past glory (Jake Delhomme) and journeymen who raised hopes by temporarily looking competent (Brian Hoyer).
Since passing on Roethlisberger, the Browns have tried 19 starting quarterbacks. That's about one quarterback for every three wins of their 60 total during that span.
The lesson: When looking for your next Otto Graham, don't pass on Ben Roethlisberger.
Also, try doing better than quarterbacks who couldn't beat out Kent Graham.
That Graham was one of many mediocre Steelers quarterbacks during a Browns-like existence between the Bradshaw and Roethlisberger eras.
That Graham started five games in 2000. In the previous 16 seasons, the Steelers played 50 games with the following starting quarterbacks: Mike Tomczak (26), David Woodley (13), Todd Blackledge (5), Steve Bono (3), Scott Campbell (2) and Jim Miller (1).
And people around here complained that Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O'Donnell and Kordell Stewart weren't good enough?
The long-suffering people in Cleveland are excited about a quarterback who went by “Johnny Football” in college. They hardly care there isn't a lot of evidence Manziel can throw NFL footballs.
He likely will start for the Browns on Sunday.
Then again, there are only two throws to serve as evidence Landry Jones is an NFL-caliber quarterback. And Antonio Brown's legs, not Jones' arm, turned those throws into game-changing plays for the Steelers.
Jones is expected to start for the Steelers on Sunday because of another injury to Roethlisberger.
Let's hope it's the start of a small window.
Life is a lot better with Big Ben.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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