By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The two best quarterbacks from the Draft Class of 2004 are meeting Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were not the only quarterbacks drafted in the first round in ’04, but they have proven their superiority over the years.
There were plenty of questions about both and the wise guys liked hard-working Philip Rivers of North Carolina State’s future better than Manning or Roethlisberger because of the intangible edge he had.
You may remember the Chargers made Manning the No. 1 pick against his wishes and ended up trading him to the Giants, who drafted Rivers. Roethlisberger was selected with the 11th pick of the first round by the Steelers. J.P. Losman of the Bills was the fourth quarterback taken in the first round in ’04.
The knock on Manning at the time was a weak one. Nobody doubted any of his physical gifts or his understanding of the position. However, he was not supposed to be the student of the game that his brother Peyton Manning was on an everyday basis. While Peyton would spend his free time reviewing tape and looking for defensive weaknesses to exploit, Eli liked to go out and have a good time.
Roethlisberger was – and still is – a mammoth man who could shake off pass rushers and buy time in the pocket. But could a quarterback from Miami (Ohio) of the Mid-American Conference step in and compete well in the NFL? That was a huge question that a number of scouts had raised.
Manning and Roethlisberger have both answered those questions resoundingly and both have won two Super Bowls.
That means these two quarterbacks from the Class of ’04 have won more Super Bowls than the supposedly remarkable class of 1983 that included John Elway, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Todd Blackledge and the always unforgettable Ken O’Brien. Elway won Super Bowls his last two seasons with the Broncos, and those were the only Super Bowls that the group won.
Manning and Roethlisberger are far from done. Both appear to be at the peak of their games and it wouldn’t be a shock if either player added to his Super Bowl total this year.
The Giants have been ranked as one of the best NFC teams since the start of training camp, but the Steelers got off to a rough start and did not appear to be in top form at the start of the year.
However, they have gotten significantly better the last two weeks and head coach Mike Tomlin is one of the most underrated leaders in the NFL.
Tomlin may not have quite the command of the X’s and O’s that Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick do, but he’s not far behind. However, his strength is getting into the heads of his players and getting them to play their best for him.
Tomlin, much like Chicago’s Lovie Smith, will protect his players in public and is unlikely to say anything negative to the media about any of the individuals on his team. However, he can lower the boom in private and he doesn’t let his players get away with anything.
Roethlisberger is having one of his best seasons. He has completed 179-of-268 passes for 1,987 yards with a remarkable 14-to-3 interception ratio. Roethlisberger has gotten help from backup running back Jonathan Dwyer, who is pounding the ball between the tackles and has broken the 100-yard rushing mark each of the last two weeks against Cincinnati and Washington.
Dwyer is questionable this week with a quad injury, but it’s unlikely he will sit out. He opens things up for Roethlisberger and his receivers. Speedy Mike Wallace is the downfield threat, while Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller are going to make the tough catches and keep drives alive.
It is unlikely the Giants’ pass defense is suddenly going to turn it around after getting lit up by Tony Romo and the Cowboys, and this game may turn out to be a track meet with a lot of explosive plays. Manning is going to have to be at his best to keep up with Roethlisberger.
You have two of the best quarterbacks in the business at the peak of their abilities. They will be linked together for many years and both will go into the Hall of Fame.
Here’s a chance for both to put on a show that will at least provide a moment of distraction for the local fans who have had so much pain this week.
Who has the edge on Sunday — Eli or Big Ben? Sound off below…