Phil Simms likes big, physical quarterbacks from small schools. He should. For 14 seasons, he was one.
Simms, who went to Morehead State before becoming a Pro-Bowl QB for the New York Giants, is calling the Steelers vs. Eagles for CBS this Sunday. Without question, this is the most exciting quarterback match-up of the early NFL season, so there was no one better than Simms to break down the play of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger and rookie phenom Carson Wentz.
(As an aside, it was exciting to talk to Simms about this game in particular, given our Philly-to-Pittsburgh connection between Billy Penn and The Incline. Our conversation about the quarterbacks spans the Commonwealth and back again.)
‘Don’t tell me about the intangibles.’
Simms thought Wentz was the best quarterback in the draft this year, and he credits both Doug Pederson and Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich for knowing what they have in the big rookie. At 6-5, 237, Wentz is nearly identical in size to Roethlisberger, who the NFL lists at 6-5, 240, but plays more like he’s 260 pounds if an ounce.
When asked if he expected Wentz to be this good this fast, Simms excitedly explained what he looks for in a franchise quarterback.
“It’s simple. Don’t tell me about the intangibles. Let’s talk about the physical first. Does the physical part, alone, give you a chance to win?
“For Carson Wentz, what does that mean? Oh, he’s really big, he’s very mobile and he has a really good arm. ‘Oh … Wow. We don’t have him in the top 20 in the draft!’ Well, that says something about who you are…whoever that is.
“Not only is it there, it’s smacking you in the face.”
Simms speaks in a way that’s a bit tricky to transcribe. He very often switches into a straw-man ‘dumb guy’ voice to make fun of those who might not agree with him. In the case above, it’s clear to him that anyone who didn’t have Wentz rated near the top of the draft is a moron. So far, Simms looks right. (To be consistent, we’ll keep the Simms ‘dumb guy’ voice underlined. Enjoy imagining how that sounds.)
‘This level of competition they talk about with quarterbacks is hogwash.’
Simms brought up that the only real knock on Wentz coming into the NFL was the level of competition he faced in college. Clearly Simms still has a chip on his shoulder about that. Given that Wentz came from North Dakota State and Roethlisberger came from Miami (Ohio), it seems Simms feels a kinship toward both Pennsylvania pro passers.
“This level of competition they talk about with quarterbacks is hogwash.
“They draft quarterbacks who have no business even making a training camp all the time in the NFL and why? ‘Well, he played at a big school in a big conference, and he put up some really good numbers.’ Yeah, no kidding. He had 14 pros around him! I just don’t understand why he did so well … even though he’s short, not athletic and has a weak arm. So … “
The sarcasm in that last comment was palpable. I almost expected him to start naming names.
“Tell me how he’s physically going to win the game first. Because when you go out looking for magic, you’re going to get fired 99 out of 100 times.”
‘It’s going to get rough for him’
Certainly Simms didn’t make that statement about Roethlisberger, who has been through everything a quarterback in the NFL can face in his career. Rather, we talked about the fast start for Wentz, albeit against two mediocre to bad teams. And yet, the Eagles were expected to be a bad team, too, and right now, they’re not. Only, they face Pittsburgh this week, a team some (read: me) are picking to get to the Super Bowl. So Simms was sure to pump the breaks on the Wentz Wagon, at least a little.
“Look, it’s going to get rough for him. It’s going to fall apart, there’s no doubt. And this story that’s so great right now is going to turn into, ‘Well, maybe he shouldn’t have been the second pick.’ It’s just a question of when that’s story’s going to come out. When everyone’s tired of writing the great story, they’ll turn it around.”
Wentz vs. Roethlisberger
We always try to compare eras, generations and players. Wentz is just 23 years old, but given his physical attributes and his down-to-earth, no-frills personality, I asked Simms to compare Wentz to the 34-year old Roethlisberger.
Does he see any Ben in Carson?
“The comparisons are they are both big and they play big. But Ben couldn’t run like Carson Wentz, even when he was young.
“Carson Wentz can turn the corner and pull away from defensive players and he needs to learn now — NOW — preservation. Next play. Now. He took a couple of hits the other night that were definitely ones you can’t do. It can happen that fast.”
They’re both big, and they both take too many hits. Wentz has more speed, but Simms was quick to laud Roethlisberger as well, talking about what separates him not just from the rookie, but from the entire league.
“Carson’s faster coming into the league, but Ben was a more gifted passer. Ben Roethlisberger, if he was a golfer they’d say that was the prettiest, most graceful, most fundamentally sound golf swing on the tour. He throws the football with no effort and he can change speeds, and all the stuff that you need. And the rhythm is incredible.
“I teach kids all the time. I’ve got Ben Roethlisberger on my iPad to say, ‘Look at what he does? Do you like the way he throws? This is what I’m trying to tell you to do.’”
‘The perfect quarterback.’
Rather than just compare the two, Simms decided to combine Wentz’s wheels and Ben’s arm.
“If you took Carson Wentz and put the Ben Roethlisberger arm on him, you truly would have the perfect quarterback.
“I think Carson’s still got a pretty big motion, It’s going great now, but when he misses, he’s going to miss ‘em high. The motion is a little violent and when that air gets really dry or other circumstances that happen in the NFL, then we’ll see some more.”
‘Ben has never gotten the credit he deserves.’
“Ben has never gotten the credit he deserves for being the quarterback that he is. Why I don’t know. You know, he is in Pittsburgh, and they are a national team.”
It’s probably not wise to argue with Simms about quarterbacks, especially when you sort of agree with him. Simms is very sure of his opinions, so when he suggested Roethlisberger doesn’t get the credit he deserves, I interjected that he’s on a very short list of players in the NFL that are already, before retiring, Hall of Famers.
“It’s awesome to watch. He’s got the best touch on deep balls in a long, long time that I’ve seen in the NFL. He could quit tomorrow and walk into the Hall of Fame.”
So how can a consensus all-time great be considered ‘underrated?’ Simms said it has to do with how often people rip him for — like Wentz has done early in his career – holding onto the ball and taking unnecessary hits.
“I always love that: ‘Oh, he holds the ball too long and takes too many sacks.’ But they never forget and don’t take into account, ‘Oh, he held the ball, and there’s another long throw down the field for a touchdown.’ We don’t talk about that. But when he gets sacked, ‘Oh, he holds it too long. He takes too many chances.’
“It’s like the guy who swings for a home run, sometimes he strikes out. ‘Oh, he strikes out too much.’ But then he hits a home run. ‘Oh, we love him. He’s a home run hitter. We love him, we love him.’
(Note: Do not have a sabermetric argument with a football analyst. Let’s move on … )
STOP. TAKING. HITS.
“I know this: If I was coaching Ben I’d say, ‘Let’s take as few of those hits as possible, because I want you to play for a long, long time.’”
Both Roethlisberger and Wentz take too many hits. In his Pittsburgh career, Roethlisberger has missed more than an entire season over the course of 12 years due to various injuries. Wentz already missed most of preseason with a cracked set of ribs from taking a hard hit. It needs to stop.
“It’s hard. When they’re young it’s hard to change the competitive spirit, or whatever you want to say, of never giving up on the play. But if he stays in the league and the more he plays, the more he’ll learn to live for another down, another series. And you play accordingly. The last drive of the game, and you need, it, maybe you’re willing to take a little more punishment, but all the other times, preservation is the biggest thing. More now than ever before in the NFL.”
How hard is playing accordingly. Will a quarterback like Wentz have the time to develop and learn when not to get hit?
“Defenses are too complicated, there are too many guys who can run and move. You’ve got to know when to hold it, and you’ve got to know when to get rid of it. It’s an extremely fine line. I don’t care how good your offensive line is, quarterbacks are going to get hit now.”
Ben vs. Carson: Who would you rather have the next 5 years?
I asked Simms who he would rather have for the next half decade. I almost asked who he’d rather have now, but given what he said about Ben’s throwing motion, that answer was pretty clear. But over five years, maybe it would change. Wentz is 12 years younger than Roethlisberger, and Ben will be 39 years old in five years. Not too many quarterbacks last that long, especially one as oft-injured as he has been. It has to be Wentz, right?
“Five-year plan? Five years? I’m taking Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve got all the answers already for Ben Roethlisberger. I don’t have all the answers yet for Carson Wentz. So, that’s an easy one. We’re talking about five years — a five-year plan — you said it. That’s the answer.”
But … but Ben will be 39!
“That’s okay. You know what, when Ben Roethlisberger is 39 he’s going to throw the football exactly how he’s throwing it now. That motion will not die, and his arm will not die.”
‘There’s not a lack of quarterbacks in the NFL.’
False. That is a false statement, Phil.
I’m sorry, but there are not enough quarterbacks who are ready to play in the NFL, which is why we’ve seen so many backups struggle, so many teams spend a decade trying to find a franchise quarterback and, frankly, teams like Minnesota, which are willing to give up a first-round pick to rent a guy like Sam Bradford. That is false.
“In the NFL, everybody talks about a lack of quarterbacks. There’s not a lack of quarterbacks in the NFL. That is just total, 100-percent, just, bull.
“Of course, there’s always going to be a group that’s better than the other ones, but what there is, there’s a lack of offensive coordinators. And that is a fact. There is a tremendous lack of offensive coordinators. So the quarterback has no chance.”
That is … fascinating. I still think he’s wrong, that talent will supersede system almost every time time, but Simms said that in context of lauding Doug Pederson for his system. So let’s let him finish.
‘Great throwers in the NFL’
While everyone in the league surely agrees that Mike Tomlin is one of the steadiest (read: best) coaches in football, nobody had any idea what to make of Pederson’s hire. Eagles fans, for sure, weren’t too excited about the hire. But so far, it looks like a good one.
“What Pederson has done, is he gives certain plays to Carson Wentz. He says, ‘Okay, I’m going to give you 10 completions. And then we’re going to make you work on seven or eight others. And then you’re going to have to be you and get another five. And there we go.’ And that’s how it works. The coach has got to give you half of them, and you’ve got to figure out half. And the others, you’ve gotta make.
“And that’s what good quarterbacks do: they make plays when they’re not there. The great throwers in the NFL, they’re going to make three or four a game that the other group can’t make and wouldn’t even try.”
Both Roethlisberger and Wentz are in the group that will try. And for both teams, the success rate on those attempts will go a long way in determining how far the team goes this year, and over the next five.
Simms never picks a winner for the games he’s calling — something he said is a courtesy to the players, who always take it personally when analysts pick against them — but it’s clear he’s looking forward to the in-state tilt that everyone will be watching this weekend.
For certain, whichever quarterback makes more of those plays that Simms says ‘aren’t there,’ will be the bigger hero on Sunday.