Ben Roethlisberger: Over-Hyped Or Over-Judged?

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Saturday, May 12, 2007
By Tom Van Wyhe
Steelers Fever Columnist


Any NFL fan who paid any sort of attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season noticed that there were problems with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He played out of character and seemingly unfocused.

Ben RoethlisbergerThose quick to jump to his defense will report that it was because of a series of bad, no, make that "terrible" luck. It began with the motorcycle accident that drew both sympathy and criticism (why didn't he wear a helmet?). Then came the appendectomy and a concussion. All of this within a matter of weeks. Won't that rattle a quarterback's confidence? Or, at the very least, distract him?

Some say, Heck yes! But others are not so quick to jump to the conclusion that a series of near death experiences will bring a quarterback down so much. (His rating dropped more than 23 points from the two seasons prior). He didn't, after all, lose any of his abilities from the incidents.

In fact, last season led fans to question Roethlisberger's ability to handle pressure. Let's look at that point of view, shall we? Every story has two sides, and this one is particularly intriguing. It questions a quarterback's ability to handle stress, pressure, and being out of his element. In this case, Ben Roethlisberger's "element" is games in which he throws less than 25 passes.

Let's discuss this primary argument, the theory that Roethlisberger struggles when he must throw more than 25 passes per game.

Evidence, please?

In his three year career, Roethlisberger has started 40 games and played in 41 -- the 41st was a transitional game (the first of his career), so I will choose not to include it in the statistics, nor will post-season games be included. And in those 40 starts, Roethlisberger has thrown more than 25 passes on 16 occasions, 40% of the time. Interestingly, 10 of those occasions occurred last season.

His record in those 16 games is 6-10, or about 38%. Last season he was 3-7, or .300, which means he was out of character, right? That does, after all, mean that his record the two previous seasons was 3-3, or an even .500.

Before I move on, understand that his record in games in which he threw 25 or fewer passes is 23-1 (5-1 last season). That deserves repeating: 23-1. A .958 record. These are not games during which he necessarily posts a 90+ quarterback rating, either. In fact, on 5 of the 24 occasions, his rating was sub-80. And on 4 occasions it was sub-70. Granted, those are small percentages (21% and 17%, respectively), but it still means the team gets by when his ratings are down.

When don't they get by? When Roethlisberger makes mental mistakes and throws interceptions, something that happened frequently last season. Throughout his career, his record is 4-9 when he throws 2 or more interceptions in one game. And he throws more interceptions in games in which he is relied on to throw more passes.

Makes sense, right? More passes = more interceptions? Natural thing, right? Not exactly.

His interception percentage (the number of interceptions he throws, per pass attempt) is .0225% (11/488) when he throws 25 or fewer passes per game; about once every 44 attempts. At a rate of 25 or fewer passes per game, that means he throws one interception every two games, on average. But that number leaps to .0551% (30/544) when he is called on to throw more than that, which is about once every 18 attempts.

Add all these statistics together and it seems evidence is overwhelming that Roethlisberger struggles when he is depended on to carry an offense. This is natural for all quarterbacks. Hey, the kid's only played three seasons. But the problem is, every fan has high expectations for him after he took the NFL by storm his rookie season, not losing a start until the post-season.

Everyone should take a deep breath and let him find his place in the offense. Roethlisberger needs to throw more often when the running game fails to cover enough ground. And therein lies the problem; if defenses can stop Pittsburgh from running the ball, it seems Roethlisberger can be stopped at will. But all this means one thing: Pittsburgh fans need to embrace Willie Parker that much more and hope to God that Roethlisberger will wear a helmet the next time he rides his motorcycle.