On Second Thought: Ben’s “Rust” Issue, Part 1

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John Froschauer/AP

As I write this I still haven’t watched Sunday’s game. I’m hoping I will be able to do so on my computer at home, once I get there. But from everything I’ve read so far it seems that Ben was pretty dreadful for most of the game.

Every since I’ve begun following the Steelers I’ve heard about Ben’s propensity to suck when coming back from an injury. The record would seem to support this, as the team is 2-6 when he does, and I suppose it’s possible those two games were only won by an amazing defensive effort or some such. So let’s take a look.

I thought it would also be interesting to look at other quarterbacks in similar situations. Is this just a problem generally for guys, or is it something particular to Ben? However, just Ben will be sufficient for the moment. I’ll add in other guys in the next post or so.

And as long as I’m at it I might as well speculate ahead of the data. I’ve written before about sports psychology, mostly in regards to kickers. (And at the moment Chris Boswell appears to be providing a rich stream of data to mine for more articles, unfortunately.) One of the comparisons I’ve made is to horn players, because, like kickers, they have a high-profile job in which a single mistake can have large (and, in the case of horn players, distinctly audible) consequences.

In many ways a better comparison for a quarterback is a conductor, as, to a certain extent, other people can pick up some of the slack for an underperforming leader. But ultimately the responsibility rests firmly on their shoulders, and uncertainty and/or downright incompetence has a ripple effect throughout the orchestra. I’m quite sure it also has the same results in football, both on the rest of the offense and  to some extent the rest of the team. If the defense feels they aren’t getting any help it is surely pretty discouraging.

I’m reminded of the [in]famous interview of James Harrison in some men’s magazine or other in which he said, among many other provocative things about many other people, that Ben needed to realize he wasn’t Peyton Manning, as he got tired of dealing with the consequences of Ben’s bad decisions.  Or words to that effect.

I hate to bring that long-ago comment up, and I expect the two of them long ago made it up, but it certainly illustrates how it must feel to a defense to shut down the other team and get off the field only to have to turn around and trot right back on it because the offense has coughed up the ball. It probably doesn’t make for a cuddly feel in the locker room, and locker room issues escalate quickly when a team is losing.

But back to quarterbacks. Because I’m on the road and it’s more difficult to sort out the data and chart it and so on I’m just going to put out the numbers for the moment and take up the thread later this week. And since I’m interested to see how well Ben plays after sitting for any reason, which gives us more data, I’ll include anytime he missed one or more weeks, including after the bye week.

So let’s see if there’s actually anything to see. Here goes:

Career Averages

Completion %: 64.0 QB rating: 94.0;TD/INT: 289/154

First game after sitting at least a week, for any reason:

Completion %: 63.7; QB rating: 87.0; TD/INT: 35/28

These figures are pretty close to Ben’s career averages. But a lot more of the games included are because of a bye week of some description than because of injury. Here’s what the figures look like when we just extract the seven games I could find (including Sunday’s) when he came back from an injury:

First game after sitting due to injury:

Completion %: 52.1; QB rating: 72.3; TD/INT: 8/10

That’s dramatically lower. And as you might infer, the figures after a rest or bye of some sort (including the 4-game suspension in 2010) are near or above average, as follows:

Completion %: 65.4; QB rating: 93.4; TD/INT: 27/18

Feel free to stop reading at this point, if you made it this far. But for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, here are the details for all these games.

Part of the reason for including these details is that we can hopefully parse out whether a loss was due to poor play on Roethlisberger’s part or whether there were clearly other factors at work. (Or, for that matter, whether a win was due to good play on his part or the rest of the team picking up the slack.)

I’m giving this information rather baldly, but will attempt to sort it out later in the week. In the meantime, here’s a bonus opinion—although there isn’t a lot of data to base it upon, I would say the issue for Ben is more than “rust.” There seems to be some additional factor at work when he’s returning from an injury. But have a look and draw your own conclusions:

Game 2, 2004 PIT @ BAL

Injury: None. Roethlisberger was the backup at that point and was brought in for an ineffective Tommy Maddox. But he was playing after sitting at least a week, so I’m including it.

Team Records at time of game: PIT 1-0, BAL 0-1

Team Records at end of season: PIT 15-1, BAL 7-9

Result: Loss, 13-30

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 20/12; Completion %: 60.0; QB rating: 82.5; TD/INT: 2/2

Game 7, 2004 NE @ PIT

Injury: None—post-bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 6-1, NE 6-0

Team Records at end of season: PIT 15-1 NE 14-2

Result: Win, 34-20

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 24/18; Completion % 75.0; QB rating: 126.4; TD/INT: 2/0

Divisional Round, 2004  NYJ @ PIT

Injury: None—seeding was locked up prior to Game 17 so they sat a lot of starters, and had a bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 15-1, NYJ 11-6 (they had won the Wild Card game)

Team Records at end of season: PIT 15-1 NYJ 10-6

Result: Win, 20-17

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 30/17; Completion %: 56.7; QB rating: 57.8; TD/INT: 1/2

Game 4, 2005 PIT @ SD

Injury: None—post-bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 2-1, SD 2-2

Team Records at end of season: PIT 11-5 SD 9-7

Result: Win, 24-22

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 26/17; Completion % 65.4; QB rating: 105.4; TD/INT: 1/0

Game 11, 2005 PIT @ IND

Injury: Missed Games 8-10 due to yperextended knee, bone bruise

Team Records at time of game: PIT 7-3, IND 10-0

Team Records at end of season: PIT 8-8 SD 14-2

Result: Loss,  7-26

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 26/17; Completion % 65.4; QB rating: 58.7; TD/INT: 1/2

Game 2, 2006 PIT @ JAX

Injury: Missed Game 1 because of emergency appendectomy, coming a few months after a significant injury due to a motorcycle wreck

Team Records at time of game: PIT 1-0, JAX 1-0

Team Records at end of season: PIT 8-8, JAX 8-8

Result: Loss, 0-9

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 32/17; Completion %: 53.1; QB rating: 38.7; TD/INT: 0/2

Game 4, 2006 PIT @ SD

Injury: None—post bye week

Team Record at time of game: PIT  1-2 SD 2-1

Team Records at end of season: PIT 8-8, SD 14-2

Result: Loss, 13-23

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 31/20; Completion % 64.5; QB rating: 58.5; TD/INT: 0/2

Game 6, 2007 PIT @ DEN

Injury: None— post-bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 4-1 DEN 2-3

Team Records at end of season: PIT 10-6, DEN 7-9

Result: Loss, 28-31

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 35/24; Completion % 68.8; QB rating: 108.0; TD/INT: 4/2

Wild Card Game, 2007 JAX @ PIT

Injury: None—PIT sat their starters in Game 17 as they had already locked up their playoff spot.

Team Records at time of game: PIT 10-6, JAX 11-5

Team Records at end of season: PIT 10-6, JAX 11-5

Result: Loss, 29-31

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 42/29; Completion %: 69.0; QB rating: 79.2; TD/INT: 2/3

Game 6, 2008 PIT @ CIN

Injury: None – post-bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 4-1, CIN 0-6

Team Records at end of season: PIT 12-4,  CIN 4-11-1

Result: Win, 38-10

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 28/17; Completion %: 60.7; QB rating: 108.6; TD/INT: 2/0

Game 8, 2009 PIT @ DEN

Injury: None—post bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 6-5, DEN 6-2

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 9-7, DEN 8-8

Result: Win, 28-10

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 29/21; Completion %: 72.4; QB rating: 116.0; TD/INT: 3/1

Game 12, 2009 OAK @ PIT

Injury: Missed Game 11 due to a “concussion-oriented thing” (to quote Mike Tomlin at the time)

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 6-5, OAK 3-8

Team Records at end of season: PIT 9-7, OAK 5-11

Result: Loss, 24-27

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 24/18; Completion %: 75.0; QB rating: 123.3; TD/INT: 2/1

Game 5, 2010 CLE @ PIT

Injury: None—4-game suspension plus bye week.

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 3-1, CLE 1-4

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 12-4, CLE 5-11

Result: Win, 28-10

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 27/16; Completion %: 59.3; QB rating: 112.7; TD/INT: 2/1

Divisional Game, 2010 BAL @ PIT

Injury: None—bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 12-4, BAL 12-4

Result: Win, 24-31

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 32-19; Completion %: 59.4; QB rating: 101.8; TD/INT: 2/0

Game 11, 2011 PIT @ KC

Injury: None – post bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 7-3, KC 4-6

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 12-4 KC 7-9

Result: Win, 13-9

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 31/21; Completion %: 67.7; QB rating: 81.8; TD/INT: 1/1

Game 17, 2011 PIT @ CLE

Injury: High ankle sprain

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 11-4, CLE 4-11

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 12-4, CLE 4-12

Result: Win, 13-9

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 40/23; Completion %: 57.5; QB rating: 73.0; TD/INT: 0/0

Game 4, 2012 PHI @ PIT

Injury: None—bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 1-2, PHI 3-1

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 8-8, PHI 4-12

Result: Win 16-14

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 38/22; Completion %: 57.9; QB rating: 83.2; TD/INT: 1/0

Game 13, 2012 SD @ PIT

Injury: Missed Games 10-12 due to bizarre rib injury which Ben said the doctor told him could have been fatal

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 7-5; SD 4-8

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 8-8; SD 7-9

Result: Loss, 24-34

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 42/22; Completion %: 52.4; QB rating: 87.9; TD/INT: 3/1

Game 5, 2013 PIT @ NYJ

Injury: None—post bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 0-4, NYJ 3-2

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 8-8; NYJ 8-8

Result: Win, 19-6

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 30/23; Completion %: 76.7; QB rating: 113.8; TD/INT: 1/0

Game 12, 2014 NO @ PIT

Injury: None—post bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 7-4, NO 4-7

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 11-5, NO 7-9

Result: Loss, 32-35

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 58/32; Completion %: 55.2; QB rating: 76.4; TD/INT: 2/2

Game 8, 2015 CIN @ PIT

Injury: Missed Games 4-7 due to MCL sprain in left knee

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 4-3, CIN 6-0

Team Records at end of season: PIT: 10-6, CIN 12-4

Result: Loss, 10-16

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 45/28; Completion %: 62.2; QB rating: 57.8; TD/INT: 1/3

Game 11, 2015 PIT @ SEA

Injury: None—post bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 6-4, SEA 5-5

Team Records at time of game: PIT: 10-6, SEA 10-6

Result: Loss, 30-39

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 55/36; Completion %: 65.5; QB rating: 82.1; TD/INT: 1/2

Game 8, 2016 PIT @ BAL

Injury: Missed Game 7 due to knee injury, followed by bye week

Team Records at time of game: PIT 4-3, BAL 3-4

Result: Loss,  14-21

Stats: Attempts/Completions: 45/23; Completion %: 51.1; QB rating: 67.3; TD/INT: 1/1

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