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Friday, July 10, 2009
Blogger Smackdown: Eli vs. Big Ben

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Every now and then, I'm reminded that the NFL created seven other divisions as sort of a neat diversion from the NFC East. Mostly this happens when AFC North blogger James Walker is looking to pad his stats by making unprovoked taunts toward unsuspecting players such as Tony Romo and Eli Manning.

The other day, I made an off-hand remark (imagine that) in a blog entry that I could make the argument that Manning was indeed a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger. Of course, that was before I looked at all the data suggesting that I was completely nuts to make that statement. James and his hearty audience took exception to my remark -- and challenged the Beast to an Eli vs. Big Ben throwdown.

Here's what the young Walker had to say on behalf of Big Ben:

Matt Mosley and the NFC East deal mostly in hype. In the AFC North, current home of the Lombardi trophy, we deal in reality. And the reality is New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning doesn't stack up to Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers in any way, shape or form.

While Mosley is begging his readers for help to defend Manning, I will present my case for "Big Ben."

For warm-up purposes, let's start with statistics.

Roethlisberger has a higher completion percentage (62.4 to Manning's 55.9), more touchdowns (101 to 98), fewer interceptions (69 to 74), more victories (51 to 42) and a much better career passer rating (89.4 to 76.1) than Manning.

Did I mention Roethlisberger has twice as many championships? You're going to need the entire Manning household to equal Roethlisberger in that category. Both quarterbacks were taken in the 2004 draft and Roethlisberger got off to a much faster start.

How quickly Mosley and NFC East followers forget Manning was nearly run out of New York during his first few seasons. He lost six of his first seven starts as a rookie and had just one winning season in his first three years.

Now Mosley suddenly thinks the younger Manning deserves to be the highest-paid player in the league with a $120 million contract and an unprecedented $50 million guaranteed. Manning's highest touchdown total for a season is just 24, yet he deserves the most money? Chalk it up to more NFC East hype.

Dealing in facts, Roethlisberger won 15 games as a rookie, including playoffs, and won his first Super Bowl in his second season. By the way, the Steelers already gave Roethlisberger a $100-plus million contract, because they knew early that Roethlisberger was the real deal. I find it interesting that the Giants haven't displayed the same level of confidence up to this point in their franchise quarterback.

Speaking of the Giants, let's discuss the Plaxico Burress factor. Burress leaves the Steelers and Roethlisberger becomes an even better player, winning a pair of Super Bowls including one immediately after Burress bolts Pittsburgh in 2005. Burress exits New York and the sky falls on Manning and he's never the same quarterback.

It's the same top-flight receiver. It's two quarterbacks put in a similar scenario. Yet Roethlisberger thrives and Manning crumbles. The "Plax factor" cannot be ignored in this debate. In fact, Manning would've never won his lone Super Bowl title without Burress. Roethlisberger is doing just fine without him.

And forget the argument that Manning does more with less. It's a farce. Manning has the best offensive line in football and two 1,000-yard rushers last season in Brandon Jacobs and former Giant Derrick Ward. Elite protection and an elite running game; what more can a quarterback want?

Meanwhile Roethlisberger has one of the NFL's worst offensive lines and no 1,000-yard rusher in 2008, yet found a way to win Super Bowl XLIII. If you gave Roethlisberger the best offensive line in football and two 1,000-yard rushers, there is no telling the damage the Steelers could do with Roethlisberger under center.

In terms of clutch, Manning had one clutch moment while Roethlisberger has already put together a clutch career. The Steelers have never had a losing season with Roethlisberger and he is 8-2 in his career during the playoffs.

Manning is just 4-3 in the playoffs. If you take away his Super Bowl run following the 2007 season, Manning is 0-3 in the postseason. So who would you want under center in a must-win game: Roethlisberger or Manning?

Mosley's response: Honestly I felt like James had me on the ropes right up until the time he said, "if you take away [Manning's] Super Bowl run following the 2007 season, Manning is 0-3 in the postseason."

Is that one of the most misguided closing arguments in the history of blogging debates or am I being too harsh? For the sake of this argument, I'm hoping James will allow Manning to retain the crowning achievement of his career. What Manning did in the 2007 playoffs -- especially in the Super Bowl -- redefined him as a quarterback in this league. And by the way, Big Ben would be 0-2 in the playoffs if we took those eight wins away. OK, this is a classic misdirection play that I'm involved in right now, so I'll move away from James' closing argument.

Truth be told, James has a lot more ammunition in terms of numbers, including the two Super Bowl rings that Big Ben's wearing. But seriously, shouldn't you only get a pinky ring when you have a 22.6 passer rating in your first Super Bowl and depend heavily on some very questionable calls to beat the Seahawks? No?

Walker points out Big Ben's quick start to his career, but let's not act like the two quarterbacks were on an equal playing field in 2004. The Steelers were loaded on both sides of the ball, and Roethlisberger was basically asked to manage the team. Manning sat on the bench behind a sputtering Kurt Warner and then he was thrown into the fire midway through the season. People will point to Manning having more interceptions, but that's because he was asked to do more than Big Ben early in his career. Roethlisberger has had the benefit of elite defenses and running games throughout most of his career. That hasn't been the case with Manning. In fact, the Giants' defense had actually put up pedestrian numbers in 2007 before they became a force during the Super Bowl run.

As I pointed out in a recent mailbag, Roethlisberger has taken a staggering 192 sacks in his career, while Manning, in virtually the same amount of games, has taken 120. Big Ben's defenders will point to the fact that he's more mobile than Manning -- and they'll be right. But he still holds onto the ball too long, which puts his offense in tough spots. I love that everyone always refers to how great a fourth-quarter quarterback Roethlisberger is. Well, in many cases, his mistakes are what gave him the opportunity to pull off those comebacks.

Oh
, and there's the fact that Roethlisberger pads his stats against the dregs of the AFC North. With a couple of exceptions, the Bengals and Browns have been brutal during Roethlisberger's time in the league. And it's not like their best competition, the Ravens, have been a juggernaut. Since 2004, the Ravens have had seasons of 9-7, 6-10 and 5-11.

Give Manning a crack at those same teams every season, and his numbers would be dramatically different. He came along when the Eagles were a dominant team and the Cowboys and Redskins are much stronger than anything the Bengals and Browns were putting on the field. Yes, I know the Bengals (and even the Browns) had a good season apiece, so don't try to get me on a technicality.

And one more thing: The whole Burress argument was completely unfair. He wasn't the truly elite receiver in Pittsburgh that he became with the Giants. So of course Big Ben's not going to miss him as much as Manning did. And Roethlisberger had an entire offseason to adjust to life without Burress. It happended to Manning overnight.

The only other thing I can think of right now is that Manning handled both the Steelers and Ravens in '08. James, you came out swinging as always -- but you left yourself exposed on several fronts. My winning argument today has to be one of the biggest upsets since Tyson-Douglas. All my best.

Beast Mgt.