Believing in Ben and Eli

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

So which rookie would you rather have as a starting quarterback -- not just for today, but for the decade?

Would it be big Ben Roethlisberger and his No. 7 black and gold Pittsburgh Steelers uniform? Or No. 10 in New York Giants blue, Eli Manning?

Roethlisberger got his chance to shine eight weeks ago as an emergency and essentially was asked to hold the fort until Tommy Maddox returned from injury.

He has done much more than that, making the Steelers (9-1) the story of the season so far.

An undefeated rookie, Roethlisberger walked into a situation tailor-made for success. A strong running game set up by an even stronger offensive line already in place in Pittsburgh fit his style and situation to perfection.

It doesn't hurt that Roethlisberger has shown some serious talent as well, in particular his ability to use his size and strength to run and to throw with power while on the run.

But the foundation around him has made it much easier for Big Ben to blossom.

It was the same deal for Dan Marino, who also hit the ground running two decades ago. The former Miami Dolphins star took over as a starter for a team that was a year removed from an AFC championship, a nice launching pad for a Hall of Fame career.

Manning's situation is considerably more fraught with potential failure, as was his brother Peyton's. Never mind the pressure of his family name and status as the No. 1 pick, it's difficult to make a splash at quarterback for a team that is struggling.

Before Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants had lost three of their past four games. Taken a step further, they were doing it with an offensive line that in its previous 10 games couldn't block for Kurt Warner, Jesse Palmer or Kerry Collins.

It stands to reason they might not be able to block for Roethlisberger, either.

It is also much more difficult to break into the league as a quarterback now than it was in Marino's day. Defences toss all sorts of elaborate coverage schemes in a rookie's grill.

The Falcons never allowed Giants receivers a sniff of getting open deep, dropping extra safeties into coverage. Manning for the most part resisted the temptation to force things that weren't there, showing that his college smarts should translate to the pros.

The Giants were convinced Manning was ready, thereby reducing the risk, which is more than could be said for two other coaching moves the past two weeks.

With his Cowboys getting crushed by the Baltimore Ravens yesterday, Dallas coach Bill Parcells threw Drew Henson into the fire. It was as if Parcells was flipping the bird at the fans who had been crying for the move and Henson promptly fumbled on his first series.

A week earlier, Buffalo Bills coach Mike Mularkey decided to give another first-round pick, J.P. Losman, a taste against the New England Patriots. A fumble and an interception later and the rookie had a taste all right, one he'd just as soon forget.

Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, echoing many of his peers, made the point last week that a class of quarterbacks can't be graded properly until after five years of pro experience.

After seeing the decent debut of Manning, Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. reiterated the point.

"I'm glad we got him now," Mora said. "I hope we don't have to face him for a couple of years ... he's something else."

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SNAP JUDGMENTS

Rob Longley looks at the winners and losers of Week 11

EAGLES (9-1): The class of the NFC, the Eagles can clinch the division title this weekend with a road win against th Giants.

RAVENS (7-3): Defence everyone knew about, now the offence under Kyle Boller is showing signs of being adequate.

COWBOYS (3-7): No quarterback, no defence, no running game, no chance.

LIONS (4-6): Turkey day is coming and they're ready to be stuffed.


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