Posted on: July 8, 2010 11:45 am

The Legacy of Kyle Boller and Ben Roethlisberger.

Coach Bill Cowher was about to find out what kind of a coach he was.

Ken Whisenhunt was his OC in 2004.  The Steelers were a veteran team with a Pro Bowl running back, a Pro Bowl wide receiver, a couple of Pro Bowl blockers and a top-10 defense.  It was a team with aspirations of greatness.

Then Tommy Maddox suffered an elbow injury in the 2nd week against their divisional rival the Baltimore Ravens, forcing the Steelers to promote Ben Roethlisberger to starter.  Suddenly Whisenhunt has a rookie QB taking the snaps.

Now Cowher was in a bind.  This was way ahead of Pittsburgh's timetable for the development of Ben Roethlisberger.  He was supposed to be their future, not their present.  With Maddox out and Big Ben in, the Steelers season was about to take a turn...unexpectedly for the better.  He started 13 games that season and won every one of them on his way to the play-offs.  He won NFL Rookie of the Year and, astoundingly, the Steelers finished 15-1.  His success was shocking but would represent a growing trend in NFL QB development.

To understand this we have to looking back at NFL history.  There have been 60 rookie QBs since 1960 who have been primary starters, which is to say they started at least half of their team's games in a season.  Of those 60, only 14 posted winning records.  A rookie quarterback simply limits what an offense can do.  That's why so few NFL teams over the years have committed to starting them.  Old school thinking is that it takes three years for a quarterback to figure out all the nuances of the position at the NFL level.  Not anymore though.  Look at it historically: 

From 1960 until 1979, there were 22 rookie QBs who were starters.  Only one in 2 seasons, Phil Simms in 1979, managed a winning record.  The Giants started him for the last 11 games, and he went 6-5 on a 6-10 team.  However, Simms had a 50.5% completion rating with only 13 TDs but 14 INTs.

From 1980 to 1988, there were just seven rookie QB's who started their rookie season in 9 years.  Now, however, three managed winning records:  Chris Chandler of the Colts (9-4, 8TD, 12INT, 55.4%), Dave Wodley (6-5, 14TD, 17INT, 53.8%), of the Dolphins and of course Dan Marino of the Dolphins (7-2, 20TD, 6INT, 96%) who was the first to secure a play-off berth. 

Between 1989 and 2002, there were 18 rookie QBs who started.  Again, just one managed a winning record during that stretch, Kerry Collins, on the expansion Panthers for the final 13 games as a rookie in 1995 and posted a 7-6 record.  Again, Collins had a 49.4% completions rating with 14 TDs and 19 INTs.

Fast forward to 2003.  There have been 11 rookie quarterbacks who have started their rookie season.  Seven have posted winning records starting with Kyle Boller.  Boller the posterboy for success?  Surprisingly he was the 1st of this generation (though struggling greatly ever since).  He marks the start of 'the trend' with the 2003 Ravens, posting a 5-4 record on a 10-6 team. 

Then along came Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 who won his 13 games with the Steelers, then (surprisingly again) Kyle Orton went 10-5 with the Bears in 2005.  Vince Young took the Titans to an 8-5 record in his 13 first starts in 2006.  Then Trent Edwards, 5-4 for a 7-9 Bills team in '07.  Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan both started the season as starters and each guided teams to 11-5 records and playoff berths in 2008 with Flacco becoming the 1st rookie to ever win 2 play-off games.  Finally, Mark Sanchez follows up in 2009 with Rex Ryan following Flacco's development.  Sanchez starts all season and goes 9-7 (success is arguable to some) and he matches Flacco's rookie season play-off record. 

Big Ben skipped his senior season to turn pro, so he was already a year behind in the NFL learning curve for the position. He also came out of the Mid-American Conference, so he had never seen the speed or caliber of defender on Saturdays that he would be seeing on Sundays.  Still, Roethlisberger had the best physical tools at his position in the 2004 draft.  He was the biggest and strongest QB in a draft class that had Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.  But Manning went 1st overall, Rivers 4th then Roethlisberger at 11th.

The scouting consensus was that Big Ben was the least ready of the three to play coming out of college.  However, in 3 years time he might be the best of the that group because of those tools.  Now Whisenhunt wouldn't have the luxury of grooming him for two years. 

What to do?  The year before, the Ravens had to find out what Kyle Boller did well, what he was comfortable with.  The tendency when coaches game plan is to put all these good things up on the board and then ask their QB to run them.  You can't do that with a rookie QB.  Coaches limited what that had to do and found ways to get them to do those things repeatedly from different formations and sets. So they disguised them and protected their young quarterbacks with their run game,  the 1st major componet to a rookie QB's success. 

Enter Ken Whisenhunt.  The Ravens "success" with Kyle Boller was just one season removed.  In Ben's first 11 starts in 2004, Roethlisberger never threw more than 25 passes.  He threw for more than 200 yards just twice.  He averaged 21.1 passes per game in 2004 as the Steelers ran the ball 62% of the time.  But his attempts increased as his offensive package expanded in 2005, passing 22.3 times per game.  

In 2008, Matt Ryan's Falcons would finish 2nd in the NFL in rushing with Pro Bowler Michael Turner the focal point of the offense.  Flacco, Roethlisberger and Young also were rookie starters on offenses that finished in the top 5 in rushing.  Rather than rush to put the ball into their top prospects hands these teams did the opposite by taking the ball out of them. 

So two Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl into his career, Roethlisberger is averaging 34.4 passes per game this season.  It exceeded Cowher's wildest expectations and started a trend and new fomrat for successfully employing a rookie QB in the NFL.  That brings me to my next point:  Expectatons

Roethlisberger also entered the NFL without the burden of "expectation".  Being an NFL quarterback is all about confidence.  Most rookie QB's are quickly and easily overwhelmed at the professional level.  Mitgating the pressure of the position is crucial to controlling their development.  Roethlisberger wasn't the 1st overall selection of a draft like Eli or Peyton Manning.  He wasn't a top-5 pick like Philip Rivers nor even a top-10 pick.  He was the 3rd QB selected in his draft class.  So was Boller, who went 19th overall after Carson Palmer and Byron Leftwich were drafted.  Flacco was the 18th overall pick.  Edwards was a third-round selection and Orton a humble fourth-rounder.

None played under the media microscope that Troy Aikman did.  The 1st overall pick of the 1989 draft who went 0-11 as a rookie.  Peyton Manning, who also went 1st overall in 1998 and threw an NFL rookie-record 28 INTs and mustered a 3-13 record, or David Carr, who went first overall in 2002 and was sacked an NFL-record 76 times that season while going 4-12.  They inherited bad teams that leaned heavily on them as if they were saviors.  The two former Qb's managed to overcome their rookie trials, while Carr has yet to recover.

Draft position is usually a key component in a successful equation for a rookie.  When a player goes first overall, he generally is headed for a very bad football team.  Aikman's Cowboys were coming off a 3-13 season, as were Manning's Colts.  Carr was going to an expansion team.  However, the glow of that top draft pisck and multi-million dollar contract dims in September when the games start and reality sets in.  Many become walk-in starters and the focal point on offense because of the weakness of the cast around them.  Then they become just another punching bag on a pathetic team.  Generally the lower a quarterback is drafted, the better his team, the better his situation and the better his chance for success.  This is whay ou see players like John Elway and Eli Manning refusing their 1t round selection teams.

Dan Marino was the 6th QB taken in the 1983 draft, the 27th overall choice, by the defending AFC champion Miami Dolphins.  Look at his success.  He went 7-2 as a rookie on a 12-4 team, threw 14 more touchdowns (20) than interceptions (6), won the AFC passing title and was selected to the Pro Bowl.  The records by and larger show that the QBs who win the most by and large went to good teams or good circumstances. 

Chris Chandler was a 3rd round pick by the Colts in '88 but started that season and went 9-4 on a team that finished 9-7.  He benefited from handing the ball off to Eric Dickerson, who won the NFL rushing title that season.  David Woodley, an 8th round pick by the 1980 Dolphins, posted a 6-5 record on a team that finished 8-8.  He joined a Miami team coming off an AFC East title.

Defense.  Boller played on a Baltimore team in 2003 that ranked 3rd in the NFL in defense.  Roethlisberger's 2004 Steelers finished 1st in defense.  Orton's 2005 Bears finished 2nd, as did Flacco's 2008 Ravens.  Mark Sanchez's Jets defense ranked 1st.  The only QB bucking the trend was Matt Ryan's Falcon defense that ranked 24th overall.  Along with RB's, defenses are any QB's best friend.  They take the pressure off by making it possible to win without a Herculian offensive effort.  Ask Trent Dilfer.  Further, the pressure that mounts on a QB to win from behind can cause them to implode.  Great defenses keep even those situations tenable.

There it is.  Take the pressure off the QB by running early and often.  Also a top 5 defense is almost always necessary.  Lastly, getting drafted early by a poor team without a solid supporting cast could doom a rookie QB to career journeymanship. 

So how will the 2010 draft class fare?  Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow.  Any of these could be called upon in the first 8 games to take over their teams offense for some reason or another.  Will we continue to see the trend grow?


Posted on: June 24, 2010 5:36 pm

Stras Suffers First defeat in 4th Start.

There was no joy in Mudville...the Mighty Stras was proven mortal...well...sort of.  The Nats' Bats were silent last night for their phenom, rookie pitcher.  Despite the nine hits Stephen Strasburg allowed, he gave up just 1 ER in 6 innings of work.  With the likes of Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, and Ivan Rodriguez (Pudge) they couldn't put together 2 measely runs in order to preserve mystique around their team.  Well, it was bound to happen.

Game 4 Stats
95 PC (a staggering 75 for strikes)
9 HA
1 ER
0 BB

Still far from a poor or even pedestrian performance.  Even Ubaldo Jimenez yielded 6 runs in the very same night.

Fact of the matter is that the Nationals are still not that good of a team.  They have the tools and the talent, but the winning way still eludes them as evidenced by the poor base running last night which could've save Stras the loss.  Sure they have pitching issues beyond their control with Scott Olsen, Chien-Ming Wang, and the Jordan Zimmermann (other Zimmermann) on the DL.  However, if the bats are silent no amount ace level pitching will suffice.

Despite the loss Strasburg continues to set records.  In his 3rd game he set an MLB record for most strikeouts in his first three starts (32), breaking the record set by J.R. Richard in 1971, who struck out 29 in his first three starts.  In his 4th start, he broke the MLB record for most strikeouts in 4 game (41) previously held all the way back in 1955 by Herb Score.  This game marked his 3rd in 4 games of not yielding any walks in a game.  He also had his 1st career MLB base hit too.

His performance over the last 4 games is amazing: 
25.3 INN
41 Ks (14.58K/9I) 
5 walks (still)
1.776ERA (4 ER)
.09474 WHIP 
4 hits allowed (2 HR)
370 pitches
251 strikes  (67.8% pitches thrown for strikes)

His numbers only seem to be improving for the most part.  The law of averages necessitates his ERA and WHIP to continue upward, but his raw stats continue to flourish.  Disappointed with the loss though many of us are, it comes with the territory.  It's not his fault.  Is he supposed to hold off evey major league batter for 9-12 solid innings until his lineup comes to life?  Hardly.  I'm reminded of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay playing for low scoring teams to start their careers too.  I think that despite that, Stras will OK.  Better than OK.
Posted on: June 19, 2010 8:16 pm

The Strasburg Trilogy Continues!!

I'm detecting a familiar pattern with Stephen Strasburg's 3 starts since his debut.  He stunned us all in debut so much so that many wondered if this would change baseball as we know it.  History in the making.  An unexpected new genre on pitching -- much like how "Star Wars" changed our expectations of movies bringing pure joy.  Then came Strasburg's "Empire Strikes Back"; a good showing but not as impactgful as the first.  It left us wondering if the we could ever recapture that high of his debut again.  Would he fall from being awesome to merely very good?  Then, his "Return of the Jedi"; back on his home turf without the poor field issues of Providence Field, he marveled us again with another dominant performance almost as good as the first despite the eventual team loss and no-decision.

Is he a Jedi or a Sith?  Either way he holds awesome power!  Strasburg's 3rd start he showed us again that he can live up to the hype:  85pc over 7 innings, 4 hits, no walks, 10 strikeouts.  With the of K's his last outting, he becomes baseball's pitcher with the most strikeouts in his first 3 starts in history (32) shattering J.R. Richard's record (29) set all the way back from 1971.  Even more impressive is that it's his 2nd game in 3 where he didn't walk a single batter.  Even he Whote Sox's slugger and 1st basement, Paul Kornerko, who had a both a strikeout and a single against Strasburg, heaped on the praise, "Stuff-wise, command-wise, poise-wise, you name it.  In a list of things you want from a starting pitcher, he has it all."

While the coaching has stated that they intend to be cautious with their yong phenom this season and limit him to just 100 pitches per game, they proved committed to their cautiousness and gave him the hook in the 7th despite having only tossed 85 pitches.  He certainly could've eeked out an 8th at the rate he was going (15.5/inning).  He may've even forced a few pop flies to make through to the 9th.  Well, hindsight being 20/20, an 8th or 9th inning would'v e made no difference at all unless he hit the game winning the run himself.  The Nat's bats were quiet most the night and no points were scored from the 8th to 11th innings justifying the seemingly early departure from the mound.  It a prudent measure to not repeat the mistakes made with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.  But, hey, the Nats only pay him the big bucks for his golden arm, not his wooden bat.

Stats over first 3 starts
19.3 INN ()
32 Ks (18K/INN) 
5 walks
1.862 ERA
.07759 WHIP 
4 hits allowed (1 HR)
275 pitches
176 strikes  (63.1% pitches thrown for strikes)
Posted on: June 13, 2010 11:20 pm

Strasburg's"Sequel"Not as Good as the First Time!

OK, so we all know that movie sequels aren't usually as great as the first, right.  I think there's 50/50 shot for a resurgent 3rd start and blockbuster style win.  Still, two starts, two wins, 22 strikeouts and millions of fascinated fans.

Coming off a 14-strikeout debut in a win over the Pirates, Stephen Strasburg had more trouble with the Progressive Field's mound than the Indians hitters in his first road start.  A shame that it interferred with his pitching otherwise we may have seen more records broken.

Strasburg (now 2-0) allowed only two hits, including a home run by Travis Hafner off a 100 mph fastball.  He struck out 8 and walked 5 before leaving with 1 out to go in the 5th inning.  It appears with high velocity pitches he will be prone (at least at first) to gove p the longball.  regardless, his ERA is still a stingy 2.19 and a microscopic WHIP of .5714 (thanks in part to rookie reliever Drew Storen)!

Strasburg was in control from the outset, but was bothered by loose dirt on the mound and twice requested repairs. After a walk in the 6th he kicked at the dirt, showing frustration for the first time in the majors.  It might have been Cleveland's "ultimate" home-field advantage (hint, hint...). 

His appearance drew 32,876 fans, the 2nd largest crowd at Progressive Field this season and did more for the Indian's gate sales today than their own team for nearly the entire season so far.  More than 10,000 tickets sold since his Tuesday start and 3200+ in walk-ups today.  The hype he's created so far rivals that for Fernado Valenzuela's rookie season on 1981; remember 'Fernandomania!".  However, I think the pressure is quite a bit more intense these days.  Despite that, he still is proving dominant and will look to continue his winning ways against Gavin Floyd and the middling White Sox June 19th.

On hand today was a former pitching prodigy for the Indians, 91-year-old Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who K'd 15 in his first start in 1936 as a 17 year old.  According to Elias Sports Bureau, only one pitcher since 1900 had more strikeouts before issuing his first career walk than Strasburg, who fanned 19 before walking Indians' Carlos Santana in the 4th.  Reds Johnny Cueto struck out 22 before his first walk in 2008.  Also, another previous rookie phenom and current Cleveland Indian, Kerry Wood, K's 20 in his 5th start against the Astros in 1998.  I wonder what Mr. Strasburg will show us by then?
Posted on: June 11, 2010 11:43 am

Comparing pitching Debuts: Strasburg vs. Arrieta

Wow!  How many of you watched Jake Arrieta's debut?  I've been watching and waiting on this guy even longer than for Chris Tillman to be called back up.  I've been critcal about the O's management starting their young prospects against hard hitting teams as with the hard-hitting Yankees, BUT Jakes defied his improbable start to not only win, but throw a 4 hitter.

Even Stephen Strasburg got the "nerf throw" this week starting vs. the lowly, soft-hitting Bucs and Tribe.  It makes you wonder: 

a) how well Jake would've done comparatively against the Pirates (or the upcoming Indians for that matter) in his first start.

b) how well Strasburg would've handled the Yanks in his first start....if the roles were reversed. 

The only thing that can be said for Jake's success more than Strasburg's is that he has a good deal more experience (4 minor league seasons to 2 months) than Stras does.  However, they were both similarly dominant in their respective MLB debuts. 

Stras's Debut stats:       Jake's Debut stats:
7 INN (94PC)                6 INN (106PC)
14K's (9K/9INN)            6 Ks (18K/INN)
2.57 ERA                     4.50 ERA
0.5714 WHIP                1.3333 WHIP
4 hits allowed (1HR)      4 hits allowed (no HR's!) 
2 ER                            3 ER
0 BB                            4 BB (2 intentional)
3 pies to the face          1 pie to the face

Considering their respective opposing line-ups they faced, I'd say that their respective debut's success' and statlines could be considered near equal with just Stras's just a notch better because of the 14 K's and "Zero" walks (with Jake's arm, he's not trying to walk anyone just yet).  Everything other stat difference can be attributed to the vast difference in the opposing team's hitting ability. 

Arrieta definitely had to overcome much more in his debut; the Orioles management being one of them.  Even though there wasn't nearly the same public outpouring of excitement or congratulations as Strasburg's, Arrieta deserves a lot of credit.

In any event, the O's showed up to play and support their new, young pitcher -- in bigtime fashion.  I'm sure batters will soon begin to adjust to these young pitchers and we'll see them struggle at times, but these great debuts bode well for their futures as MLB pitchers.

Congratulations Jake!  Here's to many more victories! 
Posted on: June 9, 2010 9:41 am


OK!  Who watch Stephen Strasburg's debut last night?  I normally don't look forward to such things but apparently a soldout crowd at Nats Stadium agreed that is was going to be a spectacle (or at least hoped so) and were justly rewarded for their show of faith.  It was like waiting for Christmas Day and finally getting that Red Ryder BB Gun!

His stuff looked naaaaaaasty! The has total command of 3 pitches already and some of his pitches appeared to defy gravity!  He retired 6 then 9 batters in a row, and threw 78% of his pitches for strikes. And didn't I see the radar tip at 103mph tonight? Wow!

Debut stats:
7 INN (94PC)
14 Ks (18K/INN)
2.57 ERA
4 hits allowed (1 HR)
0 BB
2 shaving creme towels in the face!

He did appear to be unsettled at initially but settled in around the 3rd and was in the zone by the 4th. However, for a kid to be this controlled and poised on the mound at his age is tremendous.  He looked like the 2nd coming of Walter "Big Train" Johnson of the Washington Senators.

The only guy in recent history that looked this good from the get-go was perhaps Timmy "The Freak" Lincecum (another of my early FB predictions) and I can't even say that even he was this dominant in his 1st ten games in the bigs.  I wonder what nickname they'll give Stras?  Perhaps...Red Ryder?  For his red hair and "Christmas-like surprise.  Hmmm.  We'll let the Nats fans decide.

Further, among his insane numbers for a debut his 14K's in 1st MLB appearance puts him in select company and 3rd on the all time rookie list:

15 — Karl Spooner, Brooklyn (NL) vs. New York (NL), Sept. 22, 1954
15 — J.R. Richard, Houston (NL) at San Francisco, Sept. 5, 1971, 2nd game
14 — Stephen Strasburg, Washington (NL) vs. Pittsburgh, June 8, 2010
12 — Elmer Myers, Philadelphia (AL) vs. Washington (AL), Oct. 6, 1915, 2nd game
12 — Steve Woodard, Milwaukee (AL) vs. Toronto, July 28, 1997, 1st game

Perhaps his 2nd start vs. a soft Cleveland Indians line up will put him on top?  It'll be hard in today's game.

I've posted this on the CBS general MLB thread page. Here's the link in case any of you want to add your comments to the page:

This one's finally in hre books!  Welcome to the big leagues Mr. Strasburg!  I think you exceeded everyones expectations.  It's a great day for baseball!
Posted on: November 16, 2009 6:11 pm

MJD should've been compelled to score that TD!

I know that MJD made the "smart" decision seeing that JAX's defense is a sieve, but this a the problem w/NFL gamesmanship today.  Rather than playing your best for the full 60 minutes, players and coaches look for LOOP-HOLES like this or like taking a knee to end the game in the last 1:30 of play. 

I know the rules allow for this sort of "clock management", but whatever happened to playing hard for 60 minutes?   In my book this should be a delay of game penalty! 

I think that Goodell and the NFL need to review these "loopholes" like they did challengeable/reviewable calls and apply this logic to these situations.  Crazy things happen under the 2 minute warning that shouldn't be allowed.  Teams should not be allowed to take knees or avoid scores during this time and should endeavor to play to their fullest for the entire 60 minute of game play.

And for those of you that say, "Well, that's fine for fantasy play, but this is reality and coaches use the clock to win real games!" I say Nertz!  This IS FOOTBALL.  Play hard for 60 or go home.  Taking knees under the two minute is for sissies!  Besides it it weren't for fantasy play it wouldn't enjoy the giant leap popularity it has now over ALL other sports.

CHANGE THE RULEBOOK, Goodell, so we can actually watch 60 minutes of real football.
Posted on: November 9, 2009 1:08 am

The biggest Fantasy Football Surprises of 2009!

There's a few players each year that can carry your team if your lucky enough to grab them in time.  These guys are usually players that were either waiver wire grabs or are performing far better than their general draft position indicates.

Who's the biggest fantasy surprise this year?
Cedric Bednson - CIN (rejuvenated in CIN)
Brett Favre - MIN (not the same Farve of recent memory)
Miles Austin - DAL (from out of nowhere - almost)
Ray Rice - BAL (becoming an everydown back)
Saints DST - NO (now the #1 scoring DST)
Owen Daniels - HOU (out for season, but who knew he'd lead the TE's until then?)
Steve Smith - NYG (rising to the challenge)
Mike Simms-Walker - JAC (good stats despite bad team)
Brent Celek - PHI (could take over for Daniels)
Broncos DST - DEN (so much made of their preseason OF woes...)
OTHER??? - Explain

Personally I own C-Bens (drafted in 7th) and Austin (waiver grab), but (despite the blog) it won't salvage may team's season.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or