So. That happened.
For whatever reason — I’m sure they have them — the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided that Charlie Batch is still worthy of a spot on their 53-man roster. By doing this they acknowledge the reality that a situation may in fact come up during the season that will force him on the field. That situation was Sunday during what turned out to be a 20-14 Steelers loss in Cleveland, a game that was probably the worst three hours of football any NFL fan outside of Cleveland has ever had the displeasure of watching.
It was ugly.
Not all of it was Batch’s fault, of course. The Steelers running backs put the football on the ground an unthinkable six times (all four running backs in uniform fumbled at least once, and hell, it wouldn’t shock me if Baron Batch found a way to drop something back in Pittsburgh) and struggled to find room to run behind an offensive line that lost Willie Colon before the game and Mike Adams during the game. And that’s to say nothing of holding call after holding call after holding call that negated whatever gains the Steelers could pull out of a hat.
But that’s kind of what happens when you present a defense with no real threat of a passing game. From snap No. 1 the Browns defense loaded up on the run and completely sold out to stop it.
Football 101: Make a team one dimensional, and they’re done.
On Sunday, the Steelers were one dimensional — well, they tried to be one dimensional — from the word Go. You knew it was going to be a problem when in the first quarter the Steelers were faced with a third-and-four and instead of attempting to pass the football, handed it off to Isaac Redman. He ran for two yards and the Steelers had to do the most productive thing their offense did all day: Punt.
The past two home games (I never did a View From 522 for either game — sorry, but you didn’t miss much) with Byron Leftwich trying — and failing — to stay in one piece there was a constant scream for the Steelers to replace him with Batch.
On Sunday, that section of the fan base got its wish.
The result? Well, let’s put it this way: Had Batch dropped back on his 34 pass attempts and simply thrown the ball directly to the ground on every single one of them, he would have finished with a higher passer rating (39.5) than he did against the Browns (38.7). He threw three interceptions, struggled to hit any pass more than five or six yards down field, and displayed the type of arm strength you would expect from the oldest non-kicker in the NFL (which he is).
But this isn’t necessarily just about Batch and his poor play. He did exactly what I was afraid he would do (nothing). This is more about why the Steelers still value him as a player and why he still takes up a spot on the roster. He hasn’t been an effective NFL quarterback in years. If you’re a baseball fan you might be familiar with the concept of a replacement level player, which is basically the type of production you could expect from any random minor league call-up. Batch, at this point in his career, is well below a replacement level player.
Here are Batch’s passing numbers, including Sunday’s game, since the start of the 2007 season:
56 Percent Completion Percentage
1,008 Yards (6.9 per attempt)
60.8 Passer Rating
Let’s put that passer rating into some perspective. This season in the NFL the worst passer rating of any quarterback qualified for the league lead belongs to Arizona’s John Skelton at 64.4. There is only one other quarterback (Kansas City’s Matt Cassel) that has a rating worse than 70.
But let’s go one step further. Since the start of 2007 there have been 102 quarterbacks that have thrown at least 100 passes in the NFL. The only ones with a passer rating worse than 60.8 are: Caleb Hanie (41.6), Keith Null (49.9), Trent Dilfer (55.1), Josh Johnson (57.7), Charlie Frye (58.3), Jimmy Clausen (58.4), and Curtis Painter (60.6).
(I’m not going to lie: I never heard of Keith Null and had no idea what team he played for until I looked this up. He played four games for the St. Louis Rams in 2009 and lost all four, throwing three touchdowns to nine interceptions. He played his college ball at some place called West Texas A & M.)
Of the 95 quarterbacks that have thrown at least 145 passes over that stretch the only ones with a lower rating than Batch are Dilfer, Johnson, Clausen and Painter.
So why, again, is he still on the roster? And why do people still believe he can play in the NFL?
I realize that if you have to get down to your third string quarterback your team is pretty much screwed. There aren’t enough good quarterbacks in the NFL to fill all 32 STARTING spots, let alone for teams to go three deep. But the Steelers backup quarterback situation has left them in a disastrous position should something happen to Ben Roethlisberger (as it did against Kansas City).
(And if I may go off in another direction one more time: The Steelers allowed Roethlisberger to take a beating every year since 2006 and he, for the most part, was able to stay in one piece. The year they’re actually protecting him, whether it be through improved offensive line play or a change in offensive philosophy that has them throwing shorter, quick routes … or both, and he goes down for a few weeks on what appeared to be a rather routine hit. At least, not one of the biggest hits he ever received. Frustrating.)
Byron Leftwich has a huge arm but is a walking injury. And we all know this. The best thing the guy did over the past three years (a shocking — and I mean shocking — 31-yard touchdown run against the Ravens Sunday night) resulted in him injuring himself. And, perhaps to perfectly illustrate how little the Steelers trust Batch at this point, kept him in the game to play through obvious pain, unable to throw the ball down field the way he normally can. Which again brings up the question: Why is Batch still here?
I hate to talk offseason here because the Steelers are still in the playoff race and the AFC is bad enough for them to get in even if they lose two more games (yes, I think 9-7 gets in as a Wild Card — and with a healthy Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown I think they’re capable of going on a run. Maybe not to the Super Bowl, but at least doing some damage in the playoffs), but one of the top priorities this offseason has to be for the Steelers to find a competent backup quarterback, whether it be in free agency, via trade, or through the draft that is not only capable of staying relatively injury free, but that they trust enough to actually play. Because this … this was ugly.
Had it not been for the Steelers defense — which played as well as a defense can play while giving up 20 points — scoring a touchdown and doing its best to minimize the damage after the offense’s eight turnovers, as well as a pass interference call in the end zone, the Steelers very easily could have lost this game 30-0.
Or had they been playing a good NFL team.