ESPN’s John Clayton discussed Ben Roethlisberger’s development a few weeks ago when taking questions from fans.
Clayton responded to a fan who questioned the wisdom that Big Ben benefited by coming to a playoff caliber team. The fan argued that the Steelers had finished 6-10 in 2003 and that Roethlisberger made the difference during the 15-1 2004 campaign. Clayton countered, indicating that good teams take advantage of down years by stocking up on top talent.
Clatyon’s analysis is dead on, but the statistics he used to make his case caught Steel Curtain Rising’s attention:
Last year, Big Ben had a 6-2 record in games in which he had to throw 30 or more passes. In the four seasons before that, his record was 5-12 in such games.
This is the perfect marriage. The Steelers had the talent that helped him grow, and he was the perfect quarterback to grow in that system.
Clayton couldn’t be more right in his essential point.
But using Ben’s performance in games where he threw over 30 passes is interesting. And there is no arguing with the numbers themselves. But are they relevant?
We Already Knew Ben Was a Winner Going into 2008... Or did we...?
Going into the 2008 season, Steel Curtain Rising was already firmly in the corner of those who believe that Ben had already established himself as one of the best.
He had the numbers, the wins, and the intangibles to prove it. Although many still sought to hang the “game manager label” around his neck, Ben had established himself as a quarterback to be counted on when the game was on the line.
The Steelers 2008 Media was replete with numbers to back it up:
- 6 NFL passing records
- 26 100 yard passing games, 24 in the regular season, 2 playoff in the games
- 3 perfect passer rating games
- 13 fourth quarter game winning drives
Add the fact that Ben was the youngest man to lead his team to a Super Bowl, and it would seem like all other arguments would be a moot point.
But the implications of Clayton’s statistics add another dimension. Fourth quarter comebacks certainly measure a quarterback’s ability to deliver when the game is on the line. But games where a quarterback must pass more than 30 times, (at least in the Steelers system) are an indication of a quarterback’s ability to both thrive and carry the team when some other facet of the game is failing.
Ben’s 30 Plus Passing Games
So with that in mind, let’s take a look back. Steel Curtain Rising examines each of Roethlisberger’s 30 plus passing games, including the playoffs,
Ben’s rookie year in 2004, and going on to the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl XL season, the post-motorcycle accident/Cowher’s swan song of 2006, Tomlin’s debut in 2007, and the Steelers Super Bowl season in 2008.
Roethlisberger’s 30 plus passing games in 2004
Ben did not pass for more than 30 times during the regular season as a rookie. He did throw 28 times in leading the Steelers to victory over the Giants.
2004 Post Season
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Jan. 15th, vs. the Jets (Steelers win 20-17)
Ben goes 30-17-2-1 for 181 yards. Looked like a rookie for perhaps the first time, but did play well enough to lead a field goal drive in OT.
Roethlisberger's 30 Plus Passing Games in 2005
Oct. 31st, vs. the Ravens (Steelers win 20-19)
Ben goes 30-18-0-2 for 177 leading the Steelers from behind to set up Jeff Reed’s game winning field goal.
Dec. 4th, vs. the Bengals (Bengals win 38-31)
Ben goes 41-29-3-3 for 386 playing well but also making some poor decisions and ultimately he was unable to rally the team from behind.
2005 Post Season
Ben had no 30 plus passing games in the Super Bowl XL run.
Analysis of Roethlisberger’s 30 plus passing games in 2005
Two thirty yard passing games is not a lot to judge from. In one instance, Ben was able to rally the team, in another he failed.
Roethlisberger's 30 Plus Passing Games in 2006
Sept. 18th, vs. the Jaguars, at Jacksonville (Jaguars win 9-0)
Ben goes 32-17-2-0 for 141 yards in his first post motorcycle, post-appendectomy game. Ben was rusty, but so was the rest of the team, and missed opportunities on defense were as much as reason for the loss as anything else.
Sept. 24th, vs. the Bengals (Bengals win 28-20)
Ben throws 39-18-3-0 for 208 yards. Not only does Ben throw three interceptions, but two of them came in the end zone. But the Steelers make a comedy of errors in all three phases of the game.
Oct. 8th, vs. the Chargers at San Diego (Chargers win 23-13)
Ben tosses 31-20-2-0 for 220 yards. Like the Jacksonville game, the Steelers seem to be in a funk, unable to get it together. Ben, like the rest of the team has start-and-sputter style of play.
Oct. 29th, vs. the Raiders at Oakland (Raiders win 20-13)
Ben throws 37-25-4-1 for 301 yards. Rothlisberger’s worst game as a pro. The Steelers out gain Oakland 360-98, limiting them to 17 yards passing. Yet Ben’s four picks, including two for TD’s, doom the Steelers.
Nov. 5th, vs. the Broncos (Broncos win 31-20)
Ben heaves 54-38-3-1 for 433 yards. Ben hits 5 different recivers and has a record-breaker day in terms of yardage. He also throws three picks, including two in the fourth quarter.
Nov. 19th, vs. the Browns at Cleveland (Steelers win 24-20)
Ben goes 44-25-3-2 for 272 yards. Ben has another three pick day, but in one quarter goes 18 for 29 for 224 yards and two touchdowns as he as he notches his 8th fourth quarter comeback
Nov. 26th, vs. the Ravens at Baltimore (Ravens dominate 27-0)
Ben throws 41-21-2-0 for 214 yards. Ben get hammered for nine sacks, as the Steelers play anvil to the Raven’s hammer.
Dec. 24th, vs. the Ravens (Ravens dominate again 31-7)
Ben tosses 31-15-2-1 for 156 yards. The Ravens again dominate the Steelers, as Ben does not even finish the game.
Analysis of Roethlisberger’s 2006 30 Plus Passing Games
Everyone knew that 2006 was an awful year for Ben. But when you breakdown the numbers this way, it is slightly easier to understand why ESPN would issue its edict that Ben had ZERO chances of making the Hall of Fame, pompously concluding that “nothing to this point suggests that Roethlisberger can carry an undermanned team on his shoulders to playoff success.” (I said understand, not agree with, I thought that bit of pontification was inane then.)
Nonetheless, it is pretty clear that the motorcycle accident, the appendectomy, the concussion, and the post-Super Bowl hang over make for less than-ideal circumstances making an honest evaluation of Ben’s passing ability.
Roethlisberger's 30 Plus Passing Games in 2007
Sept. 16th, vs. the Bills (Steelers win 26-3)
Ben throws 34-21-1-1 for 242 yards. The Steelers dominate the Bills from top to bottom, and Ben plays very well.
Sept. 30th, vs. the Cardinals at Phoenix (Cardinals win 21 to 14)
Ben throws 32-17-2-2 for 244 yards. The good news is that Ben Roethlisberger begins developing a rapport with Santonio Holmes. The bad news is that his fourth quarter rally falls short. Special teams breakdowns contribute to loss, but so does Ben’s pick in the end zone.
Oct. 21st, vs. the Broncos at Denver (Broncos win 31-28)
Ben tosses 35-21-2-4 for 290. The Steelers pass too much against the NFL’s worst defense, although Ben looks sharp, tying the game 1:10 left to play. But poor return coverage and the absence of Ryan Clark allow Denver to win on a 49 yard Field goal.
Nov. 11th, vs. the Browns (Steelers win 31-28)
Ben goes 34-23-1-2 for 278. Roethlisberger leads not one, but two fourth quarter go ahead scores, one with his feet, and another TD to Heath Miller, as special teams reveal their determination to keep all games interesting for the Steelers.
Dec. 2nd, vs. the Bengals (Steelers win 24-10)
Ben goes 32-21-2-2 for 184 yards. Despite two picks, but Ben puts the Steelers in control of the game with a touchdown run, and two more touchdown passes.
Dec. 9th, vs. the Patriots at New England (Patriots crush Steelers 34-13)
Ben throws 32-19-0-1 for 187 yards. Ben and the Steelers put up good numbers, cannot put them up on the score board, as Tom Brady torches the Steelers secondary (thanks Antonio Bryant) for four touchdowns.
Dec. 16th, vs. the Jaguars (Jaguars beat Steelers at Steelers football, 29-27)
Ben tosses 32-15-0-3 for 142 yards. Again, Ben looks good in defeat. After rallying the team in the fourth, the defense cannot hold, he goes get another chance, but is unable to convert.
2007 Post Season
AFC Divisional Playoffs at Heinz Field
Jan. 5th, vs. the Jaguars (Steelers let victory slip away, 31-29)
Ben heaves 42-29-3-2 for 337 yards. A tale of two Bens. Special teams breakdowns (again) in the first half put Jacksonville right in the game. Ben tries to do too much in reaction, throwing three picks. Plays a phenomenal second half, but he sees a would be 18 point come back get frittered away by poor defense.
Analysis of Roethlisberger’s 2007 30 Plus Passing Games
How to evaluate Roethlisberger? While 2007 does give a much more normal set of circumstances for evaluating Roethlisberger, you can also make the argument that Ben’s 3-5 record in 2007 reveals that statistics can be misleading. Which is it?
On the one hand he failed to rally the team against the Jags at home. Twice. Neither could he defeat Phoenix, nor could he spur the team to victory over New England.
On the flip side, Ben did rally the team to victory against Cleveland, in spite of some atrocious special teams play. He’d also brought them from behind against Denver and Jacksonville, only to have special teams disasters and/or defensive breakdowns undo his work.
Which stat hold more value? Ben’s 3-5 record in 30 plus games in 2007 is a little misleading. He wasn’t flawless, but its hard to hold him accountable for breakdowns that occur while he was on the sideline.
Roethlisberger's 30 Plus Passing Games in 2008
Oct. 5th, vs. the Jaguars at Jacksonville (Steelers win 26-21)
Ben throws 41-26-1-3 for 309. Barely able to lift his arm during the week, absent his top three running backs starting guard and left tackle, Ben rallies the team to victory in the final moments for what is perhaps his most heroic regular season performance.
Nov. 11th, vs. the Colts (Colts win 24-20)
Ben goes 41-29-3-0 for 280 yards. Knocked out the previous week against Washington, Ben does not practice and it shows. Ben’s turnovers are costly, although the last one could have (and perhaps should have) been a game winning touchdown.
Nov. 16th, vs. the Chargers (Steelers win 11-10)
Ben tosses 41-31-0-0 for 308 yards. The offense seems capable of doing everything in the same, except scoring. Ben does not throw downfield much, but he does put Jeff Reed in position for the winning score.
Nov. 20th, vs. the Bengals (Steelers win 27-10)
Ben throws 30-17-0-1 for 243 yards. Ben gets time again, and goes deep. Could have had an even better night statistically if not for the drops.
Nov. 30th, vs. the Patriots at New England (Steelers win 33-10)
Ben throws 33-17-1-2 for 279 yards. Given the Steelers domination of New England, it is a little surprising to see Ben passing so much, but despite an early pick, he played very well.
Dec. 7th, vs. the Cowboys (Steelers win 20-13)
Ben throws 33-17-0-1 for 204 yards. The offense sputters, converting 4 turnovers into 3 points, and unable to punch it in from the goal. Steelers Digest assessment of Ben’s performance is spot on: “Stats vs. making plays at critical times — the latter is always better.”
Dec. 14th, vs. the Ravens at Baltimore (Steelers win 13-9)
Ben goes 40-22-0-1 for 246 yards. Intense. Dramatic. Heart stopping. The kind of drive that gets you into Canton. And it was only a warm up for Super Bowl XLIII. The drive in numbers: 11-7-89-0-1 for a 119.1 with under 3 minutes to play, in a hostile stadium.
December 21st, vs. the Titans at Tennessee (Steelers lose 31-14)
Ben throws 39-25-2-2 for 329 yards. Ben not only throws two picks, he cough up several fumbles. His bumbling, stumbling performance seemed to set the tone for the rest of the team.
2008 Post Season
AFC Conference Championship
Jan 18th, vs. the Ravens (Steelers win 23-14)
Ben throws 33-16-0-1 for 255 yards. The entire offense was thrown by the loss of Hines Ward, yet Ben hooked up with Santonio Holmes for one touchdown, and averted any major mistakes on offense, as the Steelers we headed for Super Bowl XLIII.
Super Bowl XLIII
Feb. 1st, vs. the Cardinals (Steelers win 27-23)
Ben goes 30-21-1-1 for 256 yards. If Ben only ever played this game and none other, this one would give strong argument for his induction into Canton. Aside from the 70% completion rate the statistics look pretty pedestrian, but Ben’s ability to take the team 80 yards with two minutes to play for the go ahead score is breath taking even to think about.
Analysis of Roethlisberger’s 30 plus passing games in 2008
Hard to argue with 8-2, especially when Ben was getting clobbered so much of the time. Beyond the 8-2 record, it was the way he did it. Five of those 30 plus passing games were last minute, come from behind victories.
Clayton’s essential point was correct, the Steelers and Ben Rothelisberger were a perfect match (ok, like you didn’t know that already.) But perhaps Ben’s performance in games where he had to throw 30 or more times isn’t the best gauge. On the face of it prior to 2008 he did appear to struggle when forced to throw 30 times or more, but when you take a closer look, he more than held his own in those games, especially if you put the 2006 season into context.