It’s starting to seem like a yearly occurrence: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is injured.
In only three of his 13 seasons has he has started all 16 games. With Roethlisberger ruled out this Sunday against the New England Patriots, 2016 is just another year where a Steelers backup quarterback has been needed.
The team has seen multiple backups in that span, and Landry Jones is the current occupant of that position. Here’s how Jones compares to some of Roethlisberger’s previous backups.
- Rod Rutherford
A top-10 list is much smoother than a top-9 list, so why not throw former Pitt Panther and Super Bowl-winning practice squad quarterback Rod Rutherford on here to start things off?
- Tyler Palko
He was briefly on the team in 2009, but he never saw the field. He’s mostly on this list for the novelty reminder that the former Pitt star played with the Steelers.
- Brian St. Pierre
While technically never the “top” backup, St. Pierre briefly saw the field backing up Roethlisberger. A 2003 fifth round pick out of Boston College, St. Pierre threw one pass in his Steelers career: an incompletion in 2004 against the Buffalo Bills. He decided to be on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in 2005 before he was re-signed by the Steelers in 2006. He spent the next two seasons shuffling back-and-forth between the active roster and practice squad before spending a couple seasons in Arizona before somehow starting for Carolina once in 2010.
You think he regrets not sticking around with the Steelers in 2005?
- Tommy Maddox
Has a Steelers player taken a bigger nose dive than Maddox in recent memory. From AFC Comeback Player of the Year in 2002 to being run out of town after 2005. His last two seasons were served as Roethlisberger’s backup, which ultimately defined his lasting memories. With Roethlisberger out against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Maddox went 11-of-28 with a touchdown and three interceptions, including the game-losing pick-six to Rashean Mathis. He had another chance later in the year at Baltimore, a 16-13 loss where Maddox threw an interception and lost a fumble. Calls for wide receiver Antwaan Randle El to play quarterback instead of Maddox grew loud after that game.
- Dennis Dixon
It might be hard to believe, but Dixon wasn’t THAT bad with the Steelers. He was named the starter at Baltimore in 2009 in an emergency situation and, while the stats don’t show it, inspired confidence he could develop. He went 12-of-26 with 145 yards and an interception, but he impressed on a 24-yard scamper that gave the Steelers a lead in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh lost in overtime, but hanging around at Baltimore was impressive.
Yet that was his high mark. He did manage a win in Pittsburgh’s 2010 opening game against Atlanta, though it was mostly due to the defense and an overtime Rashard Mendenall rushing touchdown in the 15-9 win. Dixon struggled the following two preseasons and was released before the 2012 season.
- Mike Vick
If you told me in 2004 Michael Vick would one day be a Steelers quarterback, I would have been ecstatic. The 2015 version of me could have done without it. Regardless of where you stand on him getting a chance with the Steelers after spending time in jail for dog fighting, it’s hard to argue it was a distraction. But he was average at best on the field. Pittsburgh’s offense stalled, as Vick only had a 5.6 yards per attempt ratio, with two touchdowns and an interception.
While he did struggle with the game on the line in a 23-20 loss to the Ravens, he should also be credited with leading a comeback in a 24-20 win at San Diego the following week. Still, it wasn’t the Michael Vick experience some fans might have once hoped for.
- Landry Jones
There’s an old saying that the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town. That might be the opposite with Jones. He’s managed to stick around for four seasons after being a much-maligned fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in 2013, and he finally gets his chance to show he’s the backup the Steelers envisioned.
He’s had his moments, including looking good against New Orleans in the preseason for what was his only real time with the first-team offense. His defining moment is coming off the bench at home against the Arizona Cardinals last season to go 8-for-12 for 168 yards and two scores. Yet he was just OK at best the following week in Kansas City, going 16-29 for 209 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also almost threw away the AFC Wild Card game against the Bengals with an interception in his only pass attempt.
It’s make-or-break time for Jones.
- Bruce Gradkowski
It is really hard to judge Gradkowski’s three seasons with the team because he was so seldom used. Roethlisberger played in every game in 2013 and 2014, the two years Gradkowski was healthy, and Roethlisberger was injured in 2015. But what Gradkowski did in that time was inspire confidence that he could manage the Steelers if Roethlisberger were to miss time. Gradkowski had a good career as a backup and had some good preseason moments. You could argue that he belongs lower on this list, but since he was ahead of both Vick and Jones in his tenure, he gets the nod ahead of them.
- Byron Leftwich
It still seems weird that Leftwich spent as many season in Pittsburgh as he did in Jacksonville. He was originally signed in 2008 in part thinking that if he had a strong showing as a backup he could become a starter elsewhere. Leftwich made five appearances without a start, his most impressive at Washington where he went seven-of-10 with 129 yards and a touchdown.
He followed up some good cameo appearances in 2008 with a deal to become a starter in Tampa Bay for the 2009 season, but he returned in 2010 with uncertainty surrounding Roethlisberger’s future at the time in the wake of his sexual assault case in Georgia. Leftwich mostly saw mop-up duty with one start in his next three years in Pittsburgh, a 13-10 loss to Baltimore where he suffered a rib injury. His last play with the team was a last-second Hail Mary pass that just lost steam before the end zone, in part due to the rib injury.
- Charlie Batch
Was there any doubt he’d top this list? During his 11 seasons with the Steelers he was 6-3 in nine starts and overall had a sound confidence that he could get the job done whenever needed.
Yet perhaps most impressive was that it was impossible to count him out.
Pittsburgh decided to start Dixon instead of Batch in 2010, with talk saying Batch would have likely been released when Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension. Dixon got hurt early against Tennessee in Week 2, and Batch came in to secure the win and a split of the next two games. The end appeared near for Batch two seasons later after he threw three interceptions in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland. He was just saving his best for last.
The following week at Baltimore, Batch went 25-of-36 with a touchdown and an interception — and he served as a lead blocker on a Jonathan Dwyer touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 23-20 upset. As Shaun Suisham’s kick-winning kick split the uprights, Batch and Roethlisberger had an emotional embrace, the last image of Batch’s folk-hero like career.
Image credit: Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIRE