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14 Mar 2008

Ben Roethlisberger and Sack Tolerance

by Stuart Fraser

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers just signed Ben Roethlisberger to an 8-year, $102 million contract, now is a good time to take a look at just what their money has bought them. Despite being second in quarterback rushing DPAR in 2007, Roethlisberger is far from a typical scrambling quarterback; when forced from the pocket -- there's no "if" when you're playing behind Pittsburgh's current offensive line -- he has a strong preference to throw on the run rather than pull the ball down and scramble for yardage.

Of course, he's equally far -- probably further -- from being your normal dropback passer. What he does is in some respects so unusual that people forget how unique a player Roethlisberger is. This isn't about his unusually high yards per attempt totals for his age or his incredible rookie season, though both of those are certainly impressive feats. There's a wider issue in terms of his overall style of play and the success he's had almost despite this.

Let's take his 2007 season. According to Football Outsiders metrics, it looked like this:

DPAR Rank DVOA Rank Passes Yards TD INT
75.4 9 28.1% 6 449 2821 32 11

There are a couple of numbers missing there, though, so let's add them:

DPAR Rank DVOA Rank Passes Yards TD INT Sacks ASR
75.4 9 28.1% 6 449 2821 32 11 47 10.1%

That's insane. Despite getting sacked on one out of every ten dropbacks, Ben still put up a top-ten season in DPAR and DVOA. (Remember, those count sacks against him in FO stats. In terms of yards per attempt, where sacks don't count, he ranked third in the NFL.)

Unprecedented? Almost. Let's look at every other quarterback to throw at least 100 passes in a season since 1997 whilst having a personal adjusted sack rate of 10 percent or higher. There were 74 such quarterback-seasons, ranging from Roethlisberger's effort last year to David Carr's rookie year. That's quite a few. It seems that many quarterbacks who get sacked a lot end up being benched or injured -- which, if the protection problems weren't the quarterback's fault, just exposes another passer to the same treatment. In such ways are the 2004 Chicago Bears formed.

Of those 74 quarterback-seasons, only 28 managed to turn in performances better than replacement level (i.e., positive DPAR), and only 18 of them were above average (positive DVOA). Since that's Big Ben's end of the spectrum, let's take a closer look at those 18. Quarterbacks are ranked by DVOA instead of DPAR, because the number of passes thrown by each passer varies widely:

Player Team DPAR PAR DVOA VOA Year Passes
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 75.2 78.5 28.0% 29.8% 2007 449
Chris Chandler ATL 58.8 68.0 25.0% 31.0% 1998 373
Tony Banks HOU 15.1 11.1 18.8% 10.3% 2003 114
Jeff George OAK 61.5 66.5 13.1% 15.2% 1997 578
Jim Harbaugh IND 32.4 36.6 10.4% 13.5% 1997 348
Charlie Batch DET 31.1 34.8 9.2% 11.9% 1998 340
Charlie Batch DET 25.4 24.0 7.7% 6.6% 1999 304
Rob Johnson BUF 10.9 7.7 7.1% 1.2% 1998 139
Rob Johnson BUF 28.8 19.0 6.7% 0.0% 2000 353
Player Team DPAR PAR DVOA VOA Year Passes
Damon Huard MIA 18.8 14.7 6.5% 2.2% 1999 243
Mark Brunell JAC 42.4 44.0 6.3% 7.0% 2001 529
Randall Cunningham BAL 7.3 2.3 5.1% -6.6% 2001 103
Steve Beuerlein CAR 28.8 25.9 4.6% 2.8% 1998 386
Bobby Hoying PHI 17.5 12.6 3.8% -0.9% 1997 252
Rodney Peete PHI 8.7 8.3 2.4% 1.7% 1997 133
Daunte Culpepper OAK 12.6 5.0 1.6% -7.4% 2007 209
Eric Zeier BAL 7.8 15.1 1.3% 14.9% 1997 134
Billy Joe Tolliver KC 7.1 3.1 0.4% -7.3% 1997 132

There are a few items of interest here. First, 13 of these 18 seasons were prior to 2001. What we're seeing here is statistical evidence of the oft-repeated statement that "statuesque" passers were much more able to contribute in the NFL of 10 years ago than they are today -- the increased speed of defensive ends has put a premium on pocket presence. In addition, eight of these are partial seasons in which the quarterback threw 252 passes or fewer, implying it's easier to maintain NFL-starting quality performances whilst being sacked a lot for a shorter time than a full season -- which isn't that suprising, if only because of the injury risk.

Finally, let's take a look at the top of the chart, the closest comparable players to Roethlisberger in 2007. One of the commonalities between the rest of top five sack-tolerant quarterbacks is age. Chris Chandler was 32 in 1998, Jeff George was 30 in 1997, Tony Banks was 30 in 2003, Jim Harbaugh was 34 in 1997. Ben Roethlisberger was 25 during the 2007 season. This difference makes their subsequent performance less predictive when it comes to Big Ben's future, and that's a good thing because none of them were all that good the season after their performances here. Chandler was below average, while George and Harbaugh were below replacement level. (Tony Banks threw two passes in 2004, one of which was complete.)

OK, so Roethlisberger's 2007 was exceptional, especially considering the climate in which it took place. But what about the rest of his career? Well, the Steelers haven't been all that great in pass protection (or Big Ben has been holding on to the ball for too long) the entire time he's been with them. Roethlisberger's career adjusted sack rate is approximately 9.2 oercent (a figure reached by a weighted average of his ASR for each season in his career). There have been 50 quarterback seasons with an adjusted sack rate within 0.5 percent of this mark, including 27 above replacement level and 13 above average. Listing, again, only the players with positive DVOA, plus a career average for Roethlisberger, and ranking by DVOA:

Player Team Year DPAR PAR DVOA VOA Passes ASR
Ben Roethlisberger PIT AVG 62.2 57.7 24.9% 22.3% 383 9.2%
Rich Gannon OAK 1999 79.2 72.5 20.3% 17.5% 564 8.8%
Jeff George MIN 1999 49.3 48.6 20.1% 19.6% 356 9.4%
Steve Beuerlein CAR 1997 22.1 20.4 18.7% 16.1% 169 8.9%
Daunte Culpepper MIN 2003 63.5 75.5 16.9% 22.6% 488 8.8%
Mark Brunell JAC 2000 66.8 55.8 14.6% 10.1% 568 9.6%
Gus Frerotte DET 1999 30 33.1 10.8% 13.2% 308 9.7%
Chris Simms TB 2005 31.5 27 9.0% 5.8% 340 9.3%
Drew Bledsoe BUF 2002 54.9 67.5 5.9% 10.3% 662 8.7%
Drew Bledsoe DAL 2005 39.8 45.4 4.7% 7.2% 549 9.5%
Trent Green KC 2006 15.6 4.9 3.4% -8.0% 198 9.6%
Joey Harrington ATL 2007 22.3 25.2 1.1% 2.9% 380 8.7%
Chad Pennington NYJ 2007 17.4 14.6 0.6% -1.6% 284 9.1%
Kordell Stewart PIT 2000 17.9 7.3 0.1% -7.8% 321 8.8%

Gannon had more total value in 1999 than Big Ben has managed in any single-season to date, by virtue of throwing 99 more passes than Roethlisberger has in any season so far. In per-play terms the title goes to Roethlisberger again. Most of these quarterbacks are again aging veterans rather than youngsters -- and the presence of Chris Simms isn't much more predictive, unless we're expecting Roethlisberger to have a splenectomy in the 2008 season. Daunte Culpepper in 2003 was of a similar age and in many ways played in a similar style to Big Ben -- which augurs both good and ill for the Steelers. Good, because in his next campaign, 2004, Culpepper had one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever only to be overshadowed by Peyton Manning having an even better one; ill, because his play dropped off a cliff thereafter.

In terms of Roethlisberger's career averages compared to the full list of 50 quarterbacks in a similar situation, the difference is pretty stark:

Player Passes DPAR DVOA
Average Other QB 324 3.6 -12.8%
Ben Roethlisberger 383 62.7 24.9%

It may be overstating things to say that Roethlisberger is truly unique. A very few other quarterbacks have played as well as Roethlisberger despite being sacked as frequently as he has during the opening years of his career. It's likely that Jeff George and Chris Chandler would struggle to replicate their performances of a decade ago against modern pass-rushers. In either case, the ability to be a game-winning quarterback despite repeated breakdowns in pass protection is clearly extremely rare, and Roethlisberger has it. In fact, there's a truly strange trend developing with regards to Big Ben's best seasons:

Year ASR Passes DPAR DVOA
2007 10.7% 449 75.4 28.1%
2004 9.4% 326 75.3 40.3%
2005 8.1% 292 57.4 33.5%
2006 8.4% 465 42.6 6.6%

Yes, Roethlisberger's passing DPAR appears to drop when he is sacked less frequently. This, assuming it's a real trend –- this may be the smallest sample size ever published on Football Outsiders -– has probably less to do with Ben needing to be regularly banged on the helmet to stay awake and more because he isn't particularly smart when it comes to throwing the ball away, and a decrease in sacks is most likely caused by an increase in foolish throws.

What, then, does this mean for the Steelers, as they try to rebuild the offensive line this off-season? The first thing to note is that Pittsburgh's line may not be as bad at pass protection as the crude adjusted sack rate ranking suggests. Roethlisberger often holds onto the football for a long time, hoping to make the big play and trusting to the improvisational skills of his pass-catchers. Often he can buy the time with his legs –- but sometimes he can't, and by no means were all 47 sacks he took last year the offensive line's fault. Many were, however. Roethlisberger's consistency (if we can discount 2006 as a motorcycle-caused aberration -- Big Ben's new contract does indeed have a no-motorbike clause) in performing at a high level with such poor protection is close to unprecedented (Batch, Brunell, Chandler, and George all managed two above-average sack-tolerant seasons in a four-year period; Roethlisberger has four), making it both really impressive and difficult to use as an indicator.

If the Steelers feel like taking a risk, they could reason that the best way to rebuild their offensive line would be to focus on run-blocking with pass blocking as a secondary concern; provided the protection isn't too horrible and his receivers remain capable of improvisation, Roethlisberger seems to be able to cope. An improved running game would certainly be of use in the Steel City, since the current inconsistency of gains on the ground often leaves Pittsburgh in third-and-long situations, which don't help with pass protection, or for that matter with keeping the offense on the field.

The problem with this logic is that Roethlisberger, hundred-million dollar contract and all, represents a substantial investment for Pittsburgh. Given how much he gets hit, missing only seven games (and two of those were Week 17 affairs in which he probably could have played had there been a need) in four seasons speaks well of his durability, but there's no doubt a quarterback has to be considered more of an injury risk the more often he's sacked. In addition, and the presence of his backup Charlie Batch on the list of sack-tolerant quarterbacks notwithstanding, the nature of Roethlisberger's playing style would make him far more difficult to replace if he goes down.

More realistically, though, Roethlisberger's abilities behind a shaky offensive line give the Steelers more time to put together a less shaky unit whilst remaining in contention, and mean that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin don't have to mortgage the future of the franchise in the name of overpaying free agent linemen in order to keep the quarterback upright. And that makes him worth every penny of his new mega-contract, and me as a Steelers fan very thankful he fell to the 11th pick in the 2004 draft and no further.

Posted by: Stuart Fraser on 14 Mar 2008

45 comments, Last at 27 Mar 2008, 8:20am by Luz

Comments

1
by Costa (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 12:02pm

Nice article. I have nothing new to add to the subject other than to say that. =P

2
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 12:12pm

If Roethlisberger were an average size QB his sack numbers would be unprecedented. His size allows him to avoid as many sacks as he takes. Defensive players look like they are trying to wrestle a bear when trying to sack him.

I do think he faces potentially higher injury risk because guys have to go low (knees) to have any shot at bringing him down. I don't think the risk is terrible, just higher than most other QBs.

Physically, the only guy on either list really similar to Roethlisbergeris Culpepper. And to some extent they both created some of their sack problems by holding the ball too long. The key differences are that Roethlisberger has never had Randy Moss to throw to and Culpepper wasn't nearly as good throwing on the run.

3
by Costa (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 12:26pm

2:
If you consider who the closest comparison in just plain physical size is though, it would probably be Peyton Manning though, and he's one of the poster boys for durability.

That said, I realize that completely ignores the fact that Peyton takes less hits and sacks in a season than Roethlisberger takes in the first half of the season opener. =P

4
by Steel Drummer (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 12:34pm

Good work. I think one reason Beefy Ben is worse when not on the run is simple lack of experience. More time with more time would calm him down in those intervals when he has nothing to do but think.

5
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 1:10pm

Re: 3

Well according to their listed weights on NFL.com, Roethlisberger is only 10# heavier than Peyton. I'm skeptical. Roethlisberger looks just a whole lot thicker than Manning

6
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 1:12pm

what a cool article. If I were a Pitt fan (or investor) I'd be concerned about the long-term affect of the hits. But I have said before and will say so again, I worry more about him when my team faces Pitt than I worry about Brady when we face the Pats.

And Costa, Manning got hit a ton this year. He takes fewer sacks because he either has better short-yardage safety valves (Edge, Addai, Clark, Marvin H) and happily uses them, or he throws it away. But he gets hit plenty, this year especially with all the OL injuries and incompetence.

When talking about elite receivers, a lot of complaints focus on Harrison's low YPC--but a lot of those are 7-yard come-backers on a 3rd and 6. A valuable catch that FO metrics appreciates, but one that a pure yards per catch does not.

Maybe if Pitt developed RB hands and safety valve routes more thoroughly and forced Ben to check down once in a while, it would add a few years to his career at the expense of taking a yard off his gaudy YPA.

And much as I think he's a knucklehead and leads one of the better teams in my own team's conference (boo hiss, boo hiss), I'd like to see Ben have a nice long productive career.

7
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 1:29pm

The reason there aren't any old-timers on these lists is because they've only counted sacks recently, right?

That's too bad, because (by reputation anyway) there are some quaterbacks who were amazing scramblers. Fran Tarkenton, Archie Manning, etc. It's a pity we can't compare.

8
by Toxikfetus (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 2:19pm

I'm surprised Donovan McNabb isn't on any of the lists. Eagles fans have been bitching for years about how many unnecessary sacks he takes.

9
by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 4:21pm

Re 7:

Also, they were using DVOA and DPAR to measure quarterbacks, and those only go back to 1995. Sacks go back to the late 70s, if I'm not mistaken.

10
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 4:24pm

I only would like to remark that there is nothing like "too much money" for a true Franchise QB...and if only we could came up with a nice draft to improve our interior line, we are in the right track to be a fixed SB contender on years to come...here-here for the non-bike clause...

11
by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 4:37pm

7: Sacks have been an official stat for individuals since 1982. They've been kept for team totals a lot longer than that. But more importantly, for this article, we only have DVOA going back to 1995.

12
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 5:28pm

#8: Eagles fans complaining as if the world was falling in about something that their team is actually average or only marginally below average about? Never!

13
by David C (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 6:24pm

Re 3:
Daunte Culpepper is in that impossible to take down sort've weight category too. The two are very easily compared.

14
by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 9:18pm

As much as I've appreciated Roethlisberger's ability to get away after the first hit, I didn't realize how unique it makes him. Nice work, Stuart.

15
by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 9:25pm

I thought we already established that dvoa has no predictive value. Small samples, poor metrics - not sure if any of it means anything.

16
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/14/2008 - 11:34pm

I thought we already established that dvoa has no predictive value.

That must be the royal "we." I believe your kingdom awaits over in the ESPN comment threads.

As much as I’ve appreciated Roethlisberger’s ability to get away after the first hit, I didn’t realize how unique it makes him. Nice work, Stuart.

A while ago, I did a simple study looking at if the average QB DVOA goes down as ASR goes up (only since 2000, since I did it before the Premium database). Of course it does, rather steadily, actually. So if you picture "QB DVOA" on the Y-axis, and "ASR" on the X-axis, the line goes down from left to right.

Except for this little cluster of points way up in the top right corner. Those points were Ben Roethlisberger.

It really does stand out.

17
by Phil (not verified) :: Sat, 03/15/2008 - 11:12am

re:13

Except Ben knows how to throw a football, and doesn't suck.

18
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 03/15/2008 - 3:02pm

I'm not buying the correlation between ASR and DPAR. For one thing, the two seasons with high ASR were (which is probably though not certainly coincidence) the two in which he had a quality deep threat to work with (Burress and Holmes). I'd look there for the explanation of the DPAR increase.

19
by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 03/15/2008 - 6:51pm

18: Why would you say certainly a coincidence? If Ben has a reputation for holding on to the ball too long and relied heavily upon his deep threats, it would make sense that their presence would contribute to a higher ASR.

20
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 7:03am

That's why I say "probably not certainly" - though I admit a comma might have made my sense clearer. Exactly the same thought occurred to me. Trouble is, of course, that his career high in YPC was in 2005 - after Burress left and before Holmes was drafted.

Comparing ASR to DPAR is slightly weird anyway, of course. Comparing ASR and DVOA would purportedly tell you whether he played better when he got sacked more - perhaps because the extra completions he made by holding onto the ball were worth more than the yards he lost in sacks. Comparing ASR to attempts or starts or injury reports or something would speak to the notion that he is preternaturally tough. But comparing it with DPAR seems like an attempt to hybridise the two in a way that might mask any positive results.

Of course, the real issue is the sample size. There just isn't any room to draw meaningful conclusions from those data - as Ben more-or-less acknowledged in the article.

21
by Quentin (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 8:24am

Ha, as soon as I read the bit about ASR of 10 or higher, I knew I'd see Rob Johnson's name on the list. The surprise is that he's only listed twice. Those must be his only seasons with at least 100 attempts. That man just loved to take sacks.

22
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 9:24am

Roethlisberger is fascinating because he's unique -- his entire style of playing the QB position is unique, at least for an NFL player. His capability of eluding sacks is unparalleled, yet he takes a lot of sacks other QBs wouldn't, because he's so fond of holding on to the ball.

My theory is this happened because Roethlisberger, unlike virtually all other elite quarterback prospects, managed to get all the way to being an NFL starter without getting coached out of his natural style of player and taught to "play QB right" (get rid of the ball quicker, don't run around forever behind the line waiting for something to develop, etc.):

1. Roethlisberger didn't become a starting QB until his senior year of high school.
2. Roethlisberger attended a small college (For Division 1-A) where he was by far the team's biggest star, so the coaches just let him do what he does.
3. Upon reaching the NFL, Roethlisberger was forced into a starting role in week 2 of the season by a serious injury to the Steelers' starting QB, before the Steelers had time to coach him out of his natural style, and then was so immediately successful that he was allowed to keep playing his way.

Anyway, I want to comment on this:

If Roethlisberger were an average size QB his sack numbers would be unprecedented. His size allows him to avoid as many sacks as he takes. (#2)

What's really weird about Roethlisberger is that for him it works both ways. He's really hard to sack because of his upper body strength and unusual elusiveness for a guy his size; yet, given roughly equal quality of offensive line, he'll get sacked more than an average QB, because he holds onto the ball longer than just about any QB in the league (non-David Carr division.) The effect is that:

1. Roethlisberger takes more sacks than an average QB would with an average-to-good offensive line in front of him, because he holds onto the ball so long, but

2. Roethlisberger takes fewer sacks than an average QB would with a terrible offensive line in front of him, because he's so hard to sack once you get to him.

The result of this is that Roethlisberger is uniquely well-suited to play QB for the Steelers particularly, where the offensive line is about the worst you've ever seen in the NFL at pass protection, yet Roethlisberger makes them look better than they are. If the Steelers were to trade Roethlisberger even-up to the Colts for Peyton Manning, both teams would be worse off. Manning is generally better than Roethlisberger, but would not be able to survive behind the Steelers' offensive line.

Does this mean the Steelers should continue to ignore their pass protection as they have for decades? Absolutely not. Not only is Roethlisberger going to get seriously injured before long that way, but any QB benefits from better protection. Just because Roethlisberger is able to thrive with terrible protection doesn't mean you should continue to let him get chased like a wildebeest and beaten like a pinata.

23
by Quentin (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 9:43am

#22

It's a pretty well-known fact that scrambling quarterbacks generally take more sacks that traditional pocket passers. Their confidence in the running ability make them less likely to give up on the play. Sometimes, this leads to big plays. Other times, it leads to sacks. And really, tell me if your whole post up until the bold doesn't sound like a description of Michael Vick.

24
by taxistan (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 12:08pm

All you goofballs are going to sing a different tune about Big Ben in a very few years!

25
by Dan (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 3:56pm

re: 13
Roethlisberger = Culpepper + larger hands

26
by Luz (not verified) :: Sun, 03/16/2008 - 5:53pm

#25

Roethlisberger = Culpepper + larger hands + knee ligaments

27
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Mon, 03/17/2008 - 2:43pm

Re:24

How are we going to be singing a different tune? That he is great, or that he sucks? Your post is completely indecipherable...

I'd say most of think he's GREAT, with a few sucky tendencies... so how will our tune change?

28
by Monty (not verified) :: Mon, 03/17/2008 - 2:59pm

The true greatness of Ben's playing style is the endorsement opportunities -- just think --> aspirin, band-aids, medical insurance, volvo's, motorcycle helmets and of course, timex watches -- genius.

He really is remarkable, wish he wasn't occasionally streaky in his passing during games, but after living through the Mark Malone - Kordell era, astonishing to have somebody who can make a 20-yard connection look normal.

29
by Daniel (not verified) :: Tue, 03/18/2008 - 7:53pm

You can't just say it's the Mark Malone-Kordell STewart era. It's the Mark Malone-Bubby Brister-Neil O'Donnell-Mike Tomczak-Kent Graham-Kordell Stewart-Tommy Maddox era. Is that one of the suckiest list of QBs ever? And the Steelers won playoff games with these guys! Bill Cowher might be the greatest coach ever. And to think that some people wonder why the Steelers were so willing to pony up the cash to keep Ben around for awhile.

30
by Tom D (not verified) :: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 12:26am

Steve Fuller-Mike Tomczak-Doug Flutie (pre-CFL)-Jim Harbaugh-Peter Tom Willis-Will Furrer-Erik Kramer-Steve Walsh-Dave Krieg-Rick Mirer-Steve Stenstrom-Moses Moreno-Shane Matthews-Cade McNown-Jim Miller-Chris Chandle-Henry Burris-Kordell Stewart-Jonathan Quinn-Craig Krenzel-Chad Hutchinson

31
by calig23 (not verified) :: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 3:49pm

Re:#30

Interestingly, three of those players are also in Pittsburgh's string of QBs.

32
by Matt (not verified) :: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 4:59pm

23 -- "Other times, it leads to sacks. And really, tell me if your whole post up until the bold doesn’t sound like a description of Michael Vick."

What's your point there? That Roethlisberger is like Vick? (Because clearly he is not, based on passing production.) Or that 22's description was misleading?

33
by justanothersteve (not verified) :: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 6:58pm

Although the sack numbers aren't as high, I think the best comparison to Big Ben is Favre. Early in Favre's career, he did take a lot more sacks and would scramble for significant yardage. Neither was highly recruited out of HS, both were the obvious star of the team in college, and were forced into the starting lineup before their unorthodox styles could be coached out of them. And both have shown the ability to escape sacks and take a hit. Even the off-the-field recklessness is common to both. Link to Favre's stats below.

34
by Joel Christman (not verified) :: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 11:03pm

Great article that explains a very unique dilemma between Roethlisberger's style and building the right offensive line in front of him.

I truly believe the best way to manage Roethlisberger's career is keep his pass attempts relatively low. Lower pass attempts = less hits and sacks. I know that may sound strange after giving the guy $100 million and he might never get the credit he deserves from the media or general public passing 25 times a game, but I firmly believe having an 8.0 YPA with 25 attempts is better than 7.5 YPA with 30 attempts. And Roethlisberger's the perfect QB to do that.

That means the Steelers need to keep building the offensive line in front of him designed to run the ball. And continue an offensive philosophy that is a balanced 50-50 pass/run ratio early in games and a run-heavy, wear out the opponent stategy late or when in the lead.

The only problem is I think Roethlisberger's personality is to want to gunsling it around 30-35 times a game. However with his risky style of play that is almost irrelevant of the level of pass protection a line could give him, this is a risky course of action over the next 8 seasons.

35
by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Thu, 03/20/2008 - 8:45am

The best thing for Ben to do it watch a lot of Joe Montana tapes. Hours and hours.

36
by johnt (not verified) :: Thu, 03/20/2008 - 2:51pm

34: This misses the fact that the Steelers haven't been a great running team since.. well, since Ben got there. Above average, sure. But considering what they lose in pass pro that's not saying a whole lot. They get big aggregate numbers because they run over and over and over. But they put him in some of the most consistently bad situations I've ever seen any QB get in. They constantly rush for 2 yards, rush for 1 yard, here's 3rd and 7 for you Ben. He's definitely the only QB in the NFL who can survive that - by running around like a chicken with its head cut off before either lobbing a perfect pass 40 yards across his body or throwing a bizarre interception right to a DB.

Their offensive line has ranged from above average (when Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca could still move defenders) to abysmal (when they couldn't).

Don't forget Ben only got to start because the offensive line allowed the Baltimore Ravens to come in and murder Tommy Maddox (literally; this is the Ravens after all) in the 2nd game of the season.

37
by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 03/20/2008 - 5:01pm

What's amazing is his sack numbers aren't higher. Cleveland and Cincy both have had horrid DLs and rushes for years. Now that Cleveland has addressed their DL (it remains to be seen how well, of course), and Pittsburgh's line is probably as bad as it's been since the last milennium, it could be possible his ASR could increase this year. Wow.

38
by Joel Christman (not verified) :: Fri, 03/21/2008 - 10:01pm

36: Exactly right. This article fails to mention our steady downward treand of running the ball effectively over the past three season (since Parker too over the load). That certainly has some (if not a lot) of impact on this discussion.

The Steelers need to find a way to become an effective, efficient running team again. Not just total yards based on leading the league in attempts.

Then and only then will the efficient, killer Roethlisberger be his most effective. That's when the Steelers really will be a two-headed attack.

Fix the O-line this year in the draft, but look at good run blockers, not pass blockers. Next year, draft a young all-around, power back (Chris Wells, OSU!!!) since Parker's in the last year of his contract and you'd see an enormous transformation of our passing attack, sacks and efficiency.

39
by Catfish (not verified) :: Sun, 03/23/2008 - 1:07am

Re: 29

Tom D nailed it in #30. You can't really complain about your history of bad QBs when there are Bears fans around.

At least you have a great one now and a great one in the 70's. The last time the Bears had a legitimately great QB, the T formation was new and exciting

40
by Alex (not verified) :: Sun, 03/23/2008 - 5:48pm

Next year, draft a young all-around, power back (Chris Wells, OSU!!!)

Chris Wells is not a power back, at least not in the whole "gets consistent gains by pushing the pile for a few extra yards and/or not getting stuffed at the line" kind of way that you seem to be getting at. Yes, I know he's really heavy and strong, and he looks for all the world like a power back, but he's really more Barry Sanders than Emmitt Smith.

He's a speed back, and he can knock down/outrun DBs pretty easily, and outrun most any LB in the open field, so if he gets to the second level, he's gone. But getting there isn't always easy, and until your offensive line gets him a big hole to run through, he's not going to be grinding out first downs and sustaining drives.

Now, it's still worth it to give him lots of carries, because he will usually get enough long gains to make up for the stuffs, but he isn't going to get you consistent gains that you want when you're trying to run out the clock.

As an example, there were 44 RBs in D-IA that had 15+ carries on 3rd down with 1-3 yards to go. Here is the complete list of those that converted a lower percentage of those carries into first downs than Chris Wells: Jehuu Caulcrick, Branden Ore, Kevin Smith, LeSean McCoy.

This is not to say that he isn't a great RB - he is, as evidenced by the fact that of the 54 RBs with 200+ carries, he had the highest rate of converting first downs (this is on all plays, not just 3rd and short). It's just that he isn't the type of RB that he looks like.

41
by Catfish (not verified) :: Mon, 03/24/2008 - 4:26pm

Alex, those statistics sound really interesting. Are they publicly available anywhere?

42
by Alex (not verified) :: Mon, 03/24/2008 - 10:59pm

Right here.

43
by The Gipper (not verified) :: Tue, 03/25/2008 - 2:54pm

Roethlisberger may take a few more sacks than your average QB, but that only reflects his supreme confidence in his immense creative playmaking abilities. There really is no QB in football like him right now.

Meanwhile, foolish Browns and Bengals fans don't realize how great he is, even as he continues to own their teams. One day they'll wake up -- maybe.

44
by wilbur M (not verified) :: Tue, 03/25/2008 - 4:11pm

re: #22 +1, although I think I might disagree with the implication that he'd be better if he'd been taught to play QB the right way. I think smart coaches would gear the style of play to his inarguably unique talents. Of course, I thought they should have had the guta to do that when Kordell Stewart was the QB, so what do I know.

re: #30 Why the heck did you stop your list after hutch... just keep right on going to orton, grossman, griese, and whomever's next! holy hell that's a miserable list!

45
by Luz (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 8:20am

#39

You've got it wrong. There was no complaint in #29, just a sense of amazement that the Steelers could consistently win playoff games with those guys at QB. Surely there is no sadder list of QBs than in #30 but it is not the least bit surprising that the Bears haven't been successful with those QBs.