Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Sep 2009

Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger

Taken from my blog at:

Besides the fact that his name is near impossible to spell by memory, I think Ben's case is an example where his numbers lie a little.

Let me start off by saying I think he's an above average quarterback that's very mobile, smart, and crazy accurate.

But there's one giant flaw that if he was a free agent, I don't think a lot of teams should really line up and pay top dollar for him. He's a system quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is as good as is he because he was lucky enough to get drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He possesses skills to be a great quarterback but he's on a team that highlights his strengths and diminshes his weaknesses.

The big problem with Big Ben is that he isn't asked to throw a whole lot per game. The Steelers during Ben's reign (for the most part) have had a great running game so Ben is only asked to throw about 20-30 times per games. Plus the Steelers defense has been one of the best in the NFL during this time with the Steelers. So the great running game, the stingy D, and Ben's accuracy have made the Steelers a great and winning franchise, but they win with Roethlisberger not because of him. Let's look at his stats during his five year stint.

2004: Steelers running game: 4.0 YPC- 2nd in NFL
Roethlisberger's stats:
295 attempts- 28th in NFL
98.1 passer rating- 5th in NFL
66.4% completion %- t-4th in NFL

2005: Steelers running game: 4.0 YPC- 5th in NFL
Roethlisberger's stats:
268 attempts- 30th in NFL
98.6 passer rating- 3rd in NFL
62.7% completion %- 9th in NFL

2006: Steelers running game: 4.2 YPC- 10th in NFL
Roethlisberger's stats:
469 attempts- 11th in NFL
75.4 passer rating- 21st in NFL
59.7% completion %- 19th in NFL

2007: Steelers running game: 4.2 YPC- 3rd in NFL
Roesthlisberger's stats:
404 attempts- 16th in NFL
104.1 passer rating- 2nd in NFL
65.3% completion %- 7th in NFL

2008: Steelers running game: 3.7 YPC- 23rd in NFL
Roesthlisberger's stats:
469 attempts- 14th in NFL
80.1 passer rating- 24th in NFL
59.9% completion %- 21st in NFL

Last year, the 2008/2009 season, Roethlisberger had his 2nd worst statistical year ever. He had the 2nd lowest completion percentage and 2nd lowest passer rating of his career. It's no surprise that the Steelers running game was by far the worst Big Ben has had in his 5 years and he tied his career high in passing attempts. 2006 was the other year in which he threw so much and this was the year in which he had his career low in passer rating and completion percentage. This WAS Big Ben's worst statistical year. I don't think it's a coincidence that Ben Roethlisberger's two worst years was the years in which he had to throw the most.

Ben's two best years was the 2005/2006 season and the 2007/2008 season. In 2005, Ben was 30th in passer attempts. There are 32 teams in the NFL. This year the Steelers running game was the 5th best in the NFL. In this year, Ben had the 2nd best completion percentage and passer rating in his career. In 2007, Ben experienced the best running game of his career. He only threw 404 times; that's an average of a little less than 27 times a game. ONLY 27! This was the only year in which Ben had a passer rating over 100 and had the 2nd best completion percentage on his career (his best was his rookie year when he only threw it 295 times).

If Big Ben was on the vast majority of other teams and other systems, I believe his numbers would see a significant decline. Ben Roethlisberger has yet to show me he's an elite QB on his own. I will change my mind if he shows me he can have a high number of attempts AND a high completion percentage. The 2008/2009 season was his chance to show he can take an offense on his back and he failed miserably.

This is why I don't like Ben Roethlisberger.

Posted by: kaptrap19 on 08 Sep 2009

15 replies , Last at 28 Sep 2009, 8:39pm by C

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Lealand :: Tue, 09/08/2009 - 4:46pm

I'm not necessarily knocking your theory but isn't this true for most quarterbacks? Isn't that the argument against Tom Brady, (he wouldn't have those stats without the Patriot's system.)? Its the offensive coordinator's job to make a system that maximizes his players' strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. It just happens that Ben's strengths is high accuracy with fewer attempts.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by steelberger (not verified) :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 12:58pm


A ranking done by a collection of 106 experts, including 27 Hall of Famers and past and present Pro Bowlers, executives and coaches.

Among the NFL legends who filled out ballots for SN were Hall of Famers Dan Dierdorf, Mike Ditka, Art Donovan, Bob Griese, Dan Hampton, Ted Hendricks, Paul Horning, Sam Huff, Stan Jones, Leroy Kelly, Paul Krause, Jim Langer, Steve Largent, Larry Little, Mike McCormack, Randall McDaniel, Hugh McElhenny, Lenny Moore, Anthony Munoz, Alan Page, Mel Renfro, Gale Sayers, Lee Roy Selmon, Jackie Slater, Lynn Swann, Fran Tarkenton and Jack Youngblood.

They disagree with you and have Ben listed as the 3rd QB behind Manning and Brady...but hey, what do they know...you're probably right.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Chris 1 :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 3:03pm

Nice post and I'm going to have to agree with you.

With all that being said and before people tear your head off, I also agree that Ben is a solid above average quarterback. He's good, but if he were the QB of a weaker franchise, weaker system, he wouldn't get much the same love.

I was one of those people that called him a "game manager" early on, and I do think he has improved a lot... even if the stats might or might not show it.

I'm losing confidence in the Steelers O-Line, and it looks like their offensive line started declining ever since Russ Grimm & Ken Whisenhunt were passed up for the HC job and went and rebuild the Arizona Cardinals from the ground up.


I believe Brady is a HOF quarterback who would succeed in any system. His intelligence, preparation, leadership, reads are uncanny. He's the perfect "Moneyball" 6th round quarterback who is good at everything that matters while he isn't very impressive in things that don't matter as much ( like arm strength and 40 time). It still amazes me how the media drool over the guy with the rocket arm, fast 40 time, but that's dumb as a rock ( see JP Losman when he came out).

With that being said I do believe you can somewhat "manufacture" a quarterback. You could run a low risk scheme build on a run game ( and defense) and have easy reads. You could make average quarterbacks look good, good quarterbacks look great ( for a little bit), until they are exposed or play dominant defenses. Thank guys like Mike Shannihan, Gary Kubiak and others with running QB friendly schemes.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by steelberger (not verified) :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 4:12pm

"I believe Brady is a HOF quarterback who would succeed in any system"

How exactly can you defend this statement? There is no data what-so-ever to support a conclusion like this. You have never seen Brady play in another system.

The only data we have is that the Patriots system made a QB who hadnt played since high school (Cassel) look like a Pro Bowler. Would your opinion change if Cassel fails miserably in KC?

"He's good, but if he were the QB of a weaker franchise, weaker system, he wouldn't get much the same love."

This is the same QB that joined a team that was 6-10 and immediately went 15-1? This is the same QB that won the superbowl last season with NO running game and NO offensive line (admittedly with a great defense)?

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Sifter :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 5:22pm

At least he put the "I believe" part in, he's not saying that the whole world thinks Brady would succeed in any system.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Chris 1 :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 10:54pm

"How exactly can you defend this statement? There is no data what-so-ever to support a conclusion like this. You have never seen Brady play in another system."

It's based on a lot of things. Brady has a numerous different offensive coordinators ( or you could say "systems"), and succeeded. He won a super bowl with below average talent around him. He's smart. He's a leader, he's excellent in his pre-snap reads. His W/L record is hard to ignore. He's won on teams BECAUSE of him and he's been a role player on winning teams. He's clutch. I mean, if you were making out a resume of guys that would be good anywhere, Brady would be 1A or 1B on your list. Do you really believe Brady is a system quarterback? I don't.

Before 2007 I made an argument that even though Peyton had the numbers, Brady was equally impressive due to his efficiency. That if Brady TRIED to put up better numbers that he could... But that wasn't the Patriots game plan pre 07' The Patriots game play was to be aggressive early ( they scored first in something like 20 games in a row over a couple of years), build a double digit lead, and then controled the clock to win games.... Controlling the clock ( ie being efficient) is a lot harder than it sounds and Brady was damn good at it. If you asked him to just go out and score on every possession, he'd have better stats, but coach sweatshirt cared about wins instead of Brady's weekly fantasy stats.

The funny thing is that Peyton Manning was always the guy was putting up points... Audible to that 9 route and score on 1 play? Sure. Then they tried to make him score Slower (rest the defense) and more efficient and the Colts finally won the super bowl. Do we really need to argue that Brady is a system guy?

If Matt Cassell fails in KC, we should judge Brady differently? It "proves" Brady is a system guy or something? So since Scott Mitchell failed in Detroit, it *proves* Dan Marino was a system guy? We shouldn't judge each person individually?

I mean what "system" is Brady in any way? He's had numerous different offensive coordinators, Weiss, Mcdaniels, others, he's had numerous running backs that have been plugged in, not to mention tight ends and receivers.

Brady wins every year and either puts up big numbers or is very efficient. He's had multiple different coordinators ( systems). I don't know what other evidence you need. If Brady played under Weiss in a Chiefs uniform and won, and Mcdaniels in a Vikings uniform and won, would that make you feel differently?

The Steelers were 6-10 the year before Rothlisburger but were they really a 6-10 team, or a team that was bit in the ass by injuries/bad breaks? Look, the author and I both said that Ben is a "good quarterback". He's not a game manager, he's better than that, he's good. FYI, he's not nearly as good as Tom Brady.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by steelberger (not verified) :: Sun, 09/13/2009 - 10:54am

Lets break some of that down.

"Brady has a numerous different offensive coordinators ( or you could say "systems"), and succeeded."

So has Roethlisberger. Ben has won Superbowls with 2 different OC's, Brady hasnt.

"He won a super bowl with below average talent around him."

So has Roethlisberger. Ben won the last superbowl with the 23rd ranked rushing attack (29th in YPC) and what many considered to be the worst OL in the league.

"His W/L record is hard to ignore."

So is Roethlisberger's. Ben has won more games in his first 5 years than any QB in history. He is 60-22 as a starter, including 8-2 in the playoffs.

"He's won on teams BECAUSE of him and he's been a role player on winning teams."

So has Roethlisberger. Ben has had a good defense to help him, but so has Brady. Every year the Pats won the Superbowl they had a defense that was 6th or better in points.

"He's clutch."

So is Roethlisberger. He has led more 4th quarter/OT come from behind victories that any other QB since he joined the league in 2004.

I am not saying that Brady isnt great. I just find it funny that people make the claim that Brady would succeed on any team (while quoting the above points) and say the Ben would fail on any other team (while ignoring those exact same points).

If the Steeler's system makes things so easy for QB's then how do we explain Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox, Neil O'Donnell, etc? Seriously, at what point does the evidence become just too much to ignore?

He has the 7th highest career passer rating in NFL history.

He has 6th highest YPA in NFL history.

He (and thanks to CHFF for researching this) is one of only 12 QB's in history and only 3 active QB's with a record of .500 or better when called upon to "carry his team" (i.e. throwing the ball 40 times or more). Drew Brees? Nope. Peyton Manning? Nope. Philip Rivers? Nope. Brady, McNabb, and Ben.

But yeah, he is a system QB.

I am not saying Ben is better than Brady. I dont really care. I just feel the need (and I dont know why since people like these will never change their mind) to argue

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by steelberger (not verified) :: Sun, 09/13/2009 - 10:59am

That should say : "to argue when people say Ben is overrated".

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by C (not verified) :: Mon, 09/28/2009 - 8:39pm

That's great and all but I don't think he's average... I think he's a good player.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Zheng :: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 11:19pm

I'm no expert but I've decided Brady is outstanding simply by watching him play. His pocket presence is uncanny. Time after time I've thought, "what do you think you're doing?!" when he flings the ball into tight coverage--but he rarely gets picked off because he is that accurate and that good at threading the needle. He's been helped lately by an O-line that seemed like it could have held back the sea. But that hasn't always been the case.

Ben is not as good as Brady (duh), but I'd still put him in the top six or seven. He has great touch with the ball on line drives and fades. He's completely unflappable, even when repeatedly flushed out of the pocket. He performs well in strange circumstances (such as The Tackle). Hines Ward is underrated but Ben's never had the weapons that Brady and Manning currently benefit from. Ben's main "weakness" is his judgment, the main reason for all the picks, but I would expect that to improve over time.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by 2manyids :: Tue, 09/15/2009 - 9:39am

The interesting thing about Roethlisberger discussions is that they are always centered around wins. The problem is Wins are a flawed metric to use when analyzing individual performance; it's kind of a "dumb" stat to use (Mike and Mike were recently comparing Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Eli and they kept returning to the Super Bowl wins as the key part of their discussion) and it always strikes me that QB's are similar to Pitchers in that people tend to take the lowest common denominator approach in their analysis. It's one of those things where, yes, at the margins it tells you something (for instance you don't need to do a lot of digging to know that Tom Brady is better than JP Losman), but the biggest problem with it is this: it carries an implicit assumption that all else is equal.

For instance if we looked at two pitchers in baseball, Pitcher 1 went 20 - 6 while Pitcher 2 when 15 - 7, most people, if they were just looking at wins, would say Pitcher 1 is better because he won 5 more games. But what if I told you that Pitcher 1 had an adjERA of 3.50 and pitcher 2 had an adjERA of 3.02 and that Pitcher 2 had a better strikeout to walk ratio, but that pitcher 1 was on a significantly better team offensively and thus was the recipient of much greater run support? I think most people would say that, based on individual performance alone, Pitcher 2 was the better pitcher that year.

I think the difficulty in analyzing these things in Football is that the variables are so inextricably linked. In baseball you can isolate the pitcher's performance a little bit independently from the players around him (to a certain degree, of course, obviously defense is going to play a role, but certainly when you look at strikeouts versus walks and GB/FB ratios and I'm sure some of the more advanced stats they are now using you can isolate a bit more), whereas in Football almost everything a quarterback does is dependent on other factors (accuracy can be affected by pass rush, the route run by the receiver, the receiver's ability to catch the ball, the defensive coverage, etc.).

I think this was the original intent of the original post, to try to look at the context in which Ben won these games.

In looking at the stats over the past three years (from p-f-r), Roethlisberger has been below average in two of the last three years when it comes to Adjusted Net Yards, Comp% index, TD% index, Sack% index, and Passer Rating index (though he was very good in those categories in 2007, except for Sack% where he is pretty consistently well below average), whereas Rivers and Brees have both been above average in all of those categories in the last three years (I used the last three years because they are the years where all three had more than 400 attempts, plus Brees has been in NO for the last three years and Rivers started the last three years, so it's a nice comparable timeline).

Based on that data, I would certainly say that Rivers and Brees have been better than BR and would place them ahead of him in current QB rankings.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Jerry :: Mon, 09/21/2009 - 1:56am

The "problem" is that the Steelers, after going 6-10 in 2003, made two significant changes: Polamalu became the starting strong safety, and after Tommy Maddox went down in week 2, Roethlisberger became the starting QB. They went 15-1 in 2004, and you know the rest...

His coaches haven't asked Ben to be Trent Dilfer; the way he holds on to the ball and the tight windows he often throws into are both risky, but he's apparently been successful enough playing that way. They haven't asked Ben to be Brees or Rivers either. I think Roethlisberger is talented enough that he'd have done well in a West Coast offense, and I won't argue that Rivers or Brees wouldn't have succeeded if they'd been drafted by the Steelers. I'm not willing to penalize Ben because the scheme in which he's been successful isn't one that leads to putting up huge passing numbers.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 09/15/2009 - 12:08pm

The above post is very well-written, but I don't think the Roethlisberger debate can be resolved by statistical analysis. There is no stat which can accurately account for Pittsburgh's offensive line being terrible, nor is there any stat which can identify how much responsibility Roth bears for his own sacks by holding the ball too long. Just like wins assume that all else is equal, all the other stats 2manyids mentioned assume that offensive lines are equal and that QB time in the pocket is equal.

Ultimately, there is no way to definitively end this debate. Personally, I think Pitt has maximized Roth's utility by taking advantage of his mobility to save cap dollars on O-linemen. Does that make him better than Rivers? If Roth's numbers were equal to Rivers', then I'd say yes, but since they are not as good, I have no idea.

EDIT: O/T At first I read the name as Too Many Yids rather than Too Many ID's. Maybe I'm just oversensitive to potential anti-Semitism?

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by 2manyids :: Fri, 09/18/2009 - 11:27am

BGA, you make a great point, thanks for bringing that up and thanks for the compliment.

I would definitely agree with you regarding Brees, who by any metric I can find had superior play from his offensive line. With regards to Rivers though, his OL was definitely better last year, but was basically slightly below average. If so, then why such a marked difference in performance?

Also, even more interesting is that while Ben's OL was bad last year, it was even worse in 2007, yet his performance that year was much better. Why would it be if his performance is so tightly linked to the play of his O-Line that he was demonstrably better while his line was worse? I don't have those answers, but I thought it was worthwhile to bring those points up.

O/T With regards to the account name, I can honestly say that I would have never imagined that. Most people assume it is Too many ideas, but in reality it's just I have too many freakin' internet ids, so it makes it easier for my grey matter to figure out what to log in with. Absolutely no offense intended.

Re: Why I Don't like Ben Roethlisberger
by eam147 :: Thu, 09/17/2009 - 6:28am

You can play that "stat" card all you want, they are good for fantasy football. 5 years 2 Super Bowl rings that's the only stat that matters. YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME. There are no rules in winning so your though process is that of a fantasy football player. Keep on hating and he'll keep on winning.

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