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Is Matthew Stafford better than Ben Roethlisberger?

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Diving deeper into NFL Network’s quarterback topic from this week.

NFL: Preseason-Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you’re thinking. “Has Mike Payton lost his mind? Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a future Hall of Famer.” Well, relax. I can’t take full credit for today’s topic. That goes to the NFL Network. Yesterday they released this video titled ‘Why Matt Stafford is better than Ben Roethlisberger.’ Give it a watch. Here’s a taste:

The video makes some interesting points. To understand it, you have to suspend your disbelief that a quarterback is the only player responsible for Super Bowl wins. Yes, to be a full participant here, you have to ignore the annoying Quarterback Wins stat.

The video talks a lot about passing percentages, whether it be in the pocket or out of it. They also talk about stuffed percentage, a stat that I knew existed before yesterday. Wink.

But I want to dive even deeper into this topic. I want to look at what each player has around them, or has had around them in the past. I also want to look at Matthew Stafford versus what I call Old Roethlisberger, as well as Young Roethlisberger. We’ll start by looking at surroundings.

Looking at surroundings

I first want to address the thought of “what if Stafford played for the Steelers?” Matthew gets a ton of flack for “never winning anything.” It seems as if nobody ever considers the fact that Matthew was charged with the duty of helping turn around the worst franchise in NFL history, a team that went 0-16 the year before he was drafted.

In my opinion, it’s quite safe to say that Stafford would have won Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, there’s no doubt about that. But could Ben Roethlisberger win Super Bowls in Detroit? I’m not sure any quarterback could have in the time that Stafford’s been a Lion.

Surroundings is an important thing to consider. It goes back to the suspension of the Quarterback Wins theory. Does Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl without Ben? Maybe.

After all, Roethlisberger joined a Steelers team that was 29-18 the previous three years. That includes two division titles and a trip to the AFC Championship game. XFL legend Tommy Maddox was bad, but he clearly wasn’t that bad.

The point is this: Stafford has made a world of difference for the worst team ever, while Ben was the final piece of a pretty good team.

Running the ball

Here’s a very important fact to consider” Big Ben and the Steelers have had a 1000-yard rusher in nine of his 13 years. Three of those four remaining years featured a 900-yard rusher.

On the other side if the spectrum, Matthew Stafford has had one 1000-yard rusher during his entire career. Mikel Leshoure’s 798 yards in 2012 is as close as they’ve come outside of Reggie Bush’s 1000-yard year.

Matthew Stafford has never had a rushing attack better than 17th in the NFL by yardage. That is really bad and is indicative of how important it is for a quarterback to have a team around him.

What about opponents?

What about the teams that both these quarterbacks have to face? The divisions are very similar in some senses. For example, both divisions have three teams in it that are very competitive, and they both have one team that’s just happy to be there.

You can make a case that things are a bit harder for the Steelers. They sit in a division with the Ravens, who recently won a Super Bowl, and the Bengals, who recently went to the playoffs.

As for the Lions, they, of course, have to deal with the “best quarterback in the league” twice a year against the Packers. Then there’s the Vikings, who are always dangerous in some way. And then the Bears, who have Mitch Trubisky.

Then you have to compare conferences. Matthew Stafford lives in the tougher conference, without a doubt. Not only does he have to deal with the division foes, but the Cowboys, Falcons, Panthers, Giants, Redskins and Saints. The Steelers have to worry about the Patriots.

But what does averages say? According to my friend Kyle Brown, a die hard Steelers fan that was eager to help out, it says a lot. His research shows that Roethlisberger and the Steelers enjoy the spoils of playing against defenses that rank 16th on average.

As for Stafford and the Lions, the have it slightly easier. Their opposing defenses rank averages out at 15th. Thanks for the stats, Kyle.

The Stats

Let’s see what kind of story the stats tell. We’ll go ahead and start off with Young Ben versus Matthew Stafford. Young Ben will be the first eight years of Ben’s career.

Stafford vs Young Roethlisberger

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Completions 2,090 2,634
Attempts 3,313 4,285
Comp % 63.1 61.5
Yards 27 30,303
Touchdowns 165 187
INT 100 108
Rate 92.1 86.8

So there’s not a whole lot of difference here. As you can see, Stafford has almost 1000 more attempts. This is obviously because he’s had no run game to take the pressure off of him. Big Ben wins the percentage game. But Stafford has more yards and touchdowns. He also has eight more interceptions. Also keep in mind that Stafford is essentially missing an entire season here too.

Still, I feel like there’s another mini-story in here. I wonder what would happen if I took their early, early careers and matched them. I’m talking before they grew into what they are now. We’ll go with each quarterback's first five years.

Stafford Vs Young Roethlisberger (first five years)

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Completions 1,189 1,485
Attempts 1,905 2,497
Comp % 62.4 59.5
Yards 14,974 17,457
Touchdowns 101 109
INT 69 73
Rate 89.4 83.1

I’ll say one thing first: If you don’t think Stafford has gotten better, you’re a crazy person. Anyways, I think what we’ve wound up showing here is that these two seem to be a lot alike. Percentage wise, Big Ben is clearly more accurate and has been for a while. The raw stats show that these guys could be twin brothers. Although Stafford may be the Devito.

Now we move to the last piece of the stat puzzle. Matthew Stafford vs old Ben. For this we will take Stafford’s eight-year career and put it up against Roethlisberger’s last eight seasons. Let’s see what we get.

Matthew Stafford vs. Old Roethlisberger (‘09-’16)

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Matthew Stafford
Completions 2,615 2,634
Attempts 4,027 4,285
Comp % 64.9 61.5
Yards 31,840 30,303
Touchdowns 200 187
INT 91 108
Rate 96.3 86.8

Wow! Benjamin is like wine. He apparently got better with age. He’s had a great second half to his career, and this is despite missing 15 games in that eight year period. One has to hope that this happens to Stafford as well.

In Conclusion

I’m not ready to say that Matthew Stafford is the better than Ben Roethlisberger, and that’s with the suspension of the disbelief in the quarterback wins stat. It’s certainly very impressive that Stafford has been able to produce better numbers than Ben did in his early career, but when all's said and done, Ben looks to come out on top of this debate.

My other thought that I had during my discovery, is that Matthew Stafford may be Ben Roethlisberger. Again, not in terms of games won or championships won, but in terms of play and style of play. Stafford certainly seem to be trending in the very same direction as Ben, and that’s fine with me. We’ll see if Stafford can match some of these accolades by the time he hangs them up for good.