Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

When did quarterbacks start sliding?

The signature moment of the Steelers’ blowout win over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night might have been when Ben Roethlisberger’s offensive linemen got in Panthers safety Eric Reid’s face after he almost hit Roethlisberger at the end of a slide.

Reid got a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness and was ejected.

He never touched Roethlisberger.

How can you be guilty of being unnecessarily rough in a football game without making contact with anybody? OK, Reid’s jersey sleeve might have brushed Roethlisberger’s helmet as he was flying over Rothelisberger’s head.

There was nothing rough about what Reid did. He avoided making contact. How do you get ejected for almost hitting another player? I know. It’s all about player safety and creating a deterrent, but if a player succeeds in avoiding contact, how can that cost his team 15 yards, much less get him tossed out of the game?

And if you want to flag him or kick him out of the game, don’t accuse him of being unnecessarily rough. Call it 15 yards for a dangerous play. Nobody was roughed.

But back to the original question. What’s with the sliding? Roethlisberger was in the open field and running at full speed when he crossed the Panthers’ 20 yard-line. If he had stayed upright, then he probably would have made it inside the 10. He’s 6-5, 240 pounds. Reid was coming hard from his safety position, which he needs to do if he’s anticipating a collision with a guy that big.

Why should a guy as big as Roethlisberger need to slide? And why should it be the responsibility of a defender, who’s deep in his own territory, to judge whether and when a guy, who’s four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than he is, plans to hit the dirt?

Roethlisberger isn’t fast but he’s a great athlete and he could have easily made it inside the 10-yard line if he had just lowered his shoulder and continued running.

He slid to avoid injury and came a few inches from taking a serious head shot as he was finishing his slide. It was the slide that put him in danger.

I know, franchise quarterbacks are hard to find and they make lots of money, but that’s always been the case. Sliding is a relatively new phenomenon. Has any other Steelers quarterback been a slider? Tommy Maddox was the last starter before Roethlisberger. Do you remember him sliding? I don’t. He knew he was too slow to get beyond the line of scrimmage. Kordell Stewart never slid. Not once. He’s the best running quarterback in Steelers history and he ran a lot. He never missed a start because of an injury.

Terry Bradshaw played 13 years and never slid once. He put his head down and ran like a fullback when defenders approached him.

Doug Flutie was 5-10, 180 and played in the CFL and the NFL until he was 42. Never slid.

Joe Montana never slid.

I don’t remember Dan Marino sliding.

Or Johnny Unitas.

I can’t help you with Sammy Baugh.

NFL quarterbacks have never been bigger. The great ones are no more valuable now than they were way back in the 20th Century. How many times have you seen a quarterback, who can’t seem to decide when to slide, make it more likely that he’ll take a big hit because he starts slowing down and leaning back instead of maintaining his speed and delivering the blow?

And how often does a quarterback get a few extra yards by delaying the slide because he knows the tackler has to wait for him to make his decision?

If defenders are going to get ejected for almost hitting a sliding quarterback, then maybe it’s time to give the quarterback a belt with a couple of flags on it.

You know what the worst thing is about sliding? It’s boring.

  • It might be getting a little too easy to complete a pas
  • s in the NFL. There were 54 passes thrown Thursday in the Steelers-Panthers game. Nine of them were incomplete. The losing quarterback, Cam Newton had six incompletions. Roethlisberger had three. It might have been Roethlisberger’s best game ever and he’s playing like an MVP in an offense that looks good enough to get to a Super Bowl, but when 83 percent of the passes in a football game are caught by somebody, it’s about something beyond great quarterbacking.

The losing quarterback Thursday night completed 79 percent of his passes.

  • This season could be Mike Tomlin’s best coaching job, but he has to win two playoff games. Long way to go. He’s already the second-best coach in Steelers history. No losing seasons and no reason to believe he’s on his way to his first.
  • What about the Penguins? Wait.
  • Pitt had an embarrassing “crowd” for yesterday’s game with Virginia Tech and it shouldn’t surprise anybody. The stadium is too big and there’s no urgency to buy tickets in advance. That only changes with more winning and a smaller, on-campus stadium.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-reporter.

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