Since Charlie Batch seems to be all the rage these days in Pittsburgh, and there’s even talk that he could be under center when the season opens this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, I thought it would be worth the time to take a look back at the previous games he’s started as a member of the Steelers.
November 6, 2005: Steelers 20, Packers 10: During Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl season in 2005, Ben Roethlisberger missed four games due to injury, leaving the offense in the hands of Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. The Maddox games were disasters, including the Jacksonville meltdown in Week 6 that proved to be the beginning of the end of his time with the Steelers.
The Batch starts, however, were slightly better, in the sense that Batch didn’t make game-changing mistakes, and the Steelers actually found ways to win.
The first of which occurred during a Week 9 game at Lambeau Field against the Packers. Batch was asked to throw just 16 passes — completing nine of them — for a booming 65 yards. That’s 4.3 yards per pass attempt (one of the most important stats in football; learn it, love it, respect it), which is laughably bad. No matter. The Steelers used a Troy Polamalu fumble return for a touchdown and a 15-carry, 76-yard performance from Duce Staley, who scored the other touchdown, to earn a 20-10 win.
November 13, 2005: Steelers 34, Browns 21: A week after “managing” (translation: handing the ball off a bunch of times) the Steelers to a win in Green Bay, Batch was under center against the Cleveland Browns, and had a slightly larger role in a 34-21 victory. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards, and also managed to run for a touchdown. The problem, however, is that he managed to injure himself while scoring and had to leave the game at halftime, providing a glimpse into the future and his inability to make out it of games in one piece. Maddox took over and promptly threw an interception, while completing four of his seven passes for 22 yards.
Instead of relying on Maddox, the Steelers pounded Staley and Verron Haynes at the Browns, while Antwaan Randle El proved to be the most dangerous passing threat in black and gold on the night, tossing a 51-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It was the exact same play they used later that season in the Super Bowl, from almost the exact same spot on the field.
Here’s what I’m taking from these games: The Steelers can lose Ben Roethlisberger for four games in a season, leaving the offense in the hands of two sub-par quarterbacks (and a couple of running backs like Duce Staley and Verron Haynes) and still be a Super Bowl contender. Just look at the combined numbers from those four games: 52 for 99 (52 percent), 599 yards (6.0 per attempt), two touchdowns and five interceptions. And, somehow, they managed to split those games with a makeshift running back unit and eventually won the Super Bowl.
Moral of the story: Don’t give up on this season just because Ben Roethlisberger is going to miss the first four games, leaving the team with two sub-par quarterbacks.
September 7, 2006: Steelers 28, Dolphins 17: After finally getting the elusive “one for the thumb,” Roethlisberger used the summer to demonstrate why it’s dangerous to ride motorcycles without helmets, and then lost his appendix two weeks before the start of the regular season, forcing Batch to open the season on national TV against Nick Saban and the Miami Dolphins. This was the year the Dolphins traded for Daunte Culpepper (instead of going after Drew Brees … my, how that decision changed the landscape of the NFL) and was supposed to be the team to beat in the AFC. They ended up finishing 6-10.
Anyway, Batch was awesome under center, throwing three touchdown passes, including an 87-yard strike to Heath Miller late in the fourth quarter to give the Steelers the lead. On the ensuing Miami possession, Joey Porter picked off Culpepper and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, sealing the win. To celebrate? He gave Bill Cowher a kiss.
December 30, 2007: Steelers 21, Ravens 27: A completely meaningless game in Week 17. The Steelers playoff situation was settled, as they were locked in as AFC North champions with no hope of earning a bye week or home field advantage beyond the first round. Batch started the game, which proved to be a rather ugly showing by a team that was playing its worst football of the season at the absolute wrong time. Remember, this was the year we saw just how important Aaron Smith is to the defense, as the run defense was ripped to shreds in his absence, while the team lost four of its last five games, including the Wild Card playoff game against Jacksonville.
As for the game in Baltimore, Troy Smith started opposite Batch for the Ravens, while two running backs named Musa Smith and Cory Ross combined to rush for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
And there you have it. Despite being a member of the team for eight years (seriously) Charlie Batch has started just four games for the Steelers. Granted, he’s come on in relief quite a bit, but has been the “starter” just these four times, posting a 3-1 record. That’s the good news. The bad news he hasn’t won a start since 2006, hasn’t looked that good in his recent relief appearances, has hardly played this preseason, and, once again, hasn’t exactly been a model of durability during his recent appearances.