Road Woes: The “Roethlisberger Rust” Saga Continued

benroethlisberger

via BIS.com: I think Ben got a look at my charts…

 

If you look at the record of Ben Roethlisberger at home and away his “splits” appear to be getting farther and farther apart. This is, obviously, a problem, since under the best of circumstances half of your games are going to be on the road. And certainly Ben’s road record was considerably better earlier in his career. Or was it?

 

I think wins is a rather odd stat to use for quarterbacks, because so many other people have a hand in this. Although I suppose that you can consider the ability to will their team to victory one of the traits of an elite quarterback. And certainly we’ve seen Ben do this.

But just in terms of how well a quarterback played, himself, it seems fairer to just look at their stats. And although I’ve included the completion percentages, in some ways that doesn’t seem entirely fair, either, because sometimes an incomplete ball is the fault of the receiver rather than the quarterback. If a quarterback throws the ball to a receiver who ran the wrong route, you get an incompletion at best and a pick-six at worst. On the other hand we saw Ben throwing balls which were badly off-target in the Baltimore game, so we can scarcely blame the receiver for that.

The NFL quarterback rating might seem like an improvement over just the completion percentage, but it too is based to a large extent upon things not entirely under the control of the quarterback—said completion rate, interceptions to touchdowns, etc. On the other hand, things have a way of evening out. The quarterback gets the credit (at least in these ratings) when a receiver makes a difficult catch (at least assuming the difficulties were not of his making in the first place.)

The ESPN QBR purports to take such things into account, but unfortunately it doesn’t go back all the way to 2004. However, it does begin in 2006, so I’ll also throw that in to see if the equation changes. So here they are—Ben’s Home and Away comparisons since Year 1:

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Roethlisberger’s completion percentage seems to alternate on almost a yearly basis as better at home or better on the road, with a couple of exceptions—his first three years in the league, and since 2013, with the exception of last season. As you can see, the difference this season is dramatically—and scarily—different. This will perhaps change, or so we devoutly hope. But there isn’t really much of a trend to look at—it’s just some years are better than others, although there is a slight trend upwards since 2013.

Quite honestly, you would expect that, all things being equal, completion percentages would overall be somewhat lower on the road as it is harder to communicate and there’s more chance for confusion and distractions. And perhaps this has a lot to do with the relative experience level of the receivers and how much you rely on the passing game vs. the running game. But it would take a LOT more digging to try to make that determination.

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Now it starts to get more interesting. For the most part the QB home and road ratings tracked reasonably well. If anything, Ben was typically a bit better on the road. Until 2011. While the difference in 2012 and 2013 is probably within the margin of error, heaven and hell opens up starting in 2014, as it were. And road games appear to be hell.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-10-14-12-pm

It’s interesting to note that when using ESPN’s metric, whatever it may be (it’s proprietary, and top secret) then 2012 and 2013 are the only two years in which Ben appears to be better on the road, and not by much. There is a definite but not enormous difference in ’14 and ’15, no worse (better, really) than 2010 and 2011. But this year they think even less of him on the road than the NFL does, if you will.

A note about the charts: if you look at the vertical axis, none of the charts begin at zero and go to 100. I’ve narrowed the range to make it easier to see the differences. For Completion Percentage I used 50% for the base and 75% for the top, as that worked well with the data. For the NFL passer rating, which tops out at 158.3, I believe it is, I used 120 for the top (and you can see it wouldn’t have been necessary to go that high if it weren’t for this season) and 50 for the low. Finally, for the ESPN QBR, which tops out at 100, I left 100 as the top of the chart, but had to set the base at 20 because of the road numbers this season. If it weren’t for that it wouldn’t have been necessary to go below 50(!). Which is astonishing when you think about it.

So what does this make me think? I’m not sure the whole home/road splits thing isn’t overblown, at least with the data we have at the present. Ben may well go out and confirm that he just can’t get it done anymore on the road, which would be a problem of major proportions. But although the last few years don’t look amazing, it’s worth remembering that his receivers in the past few years have been mostly younger and still learning on the job. And somewhat of a rotating cast as well, what with suspensions and so on.

He lost a couple of his old reliables in the past several years—players like Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery, and perhaps especially Heath Miller. Antonio Brown is pretty amazing, but as everyone appears to have figured out this season, all you have to do is double or triple team him and he won’t be a big factor. Le’Veon Bell is a great receiver and has turned out to be very reliable, but I just wonder if Ben’s comfort level is just that much less when the team is on the road. And it certainly doesn’t help that injuries have meant they are field a different group almost every week. Again, perhaps the differences are magnified with the issues you have in road games.

The other factor is the loss of the defensive stalwarts and the lack of sufficient growth by many of the replacements. It surely makes a difference to think you need to score 35 points to win as opposed to 20.

I can tell you that as a conductor my comfort level for a concert ebbed and flowed much more with my perception of the preparation of my singers than with my own. The latter I could control, and to some extent compensate for if for some reason it was not quite adequate. The former was much more of a wild card, and it can make for a really nerve-wracking performance if you realize that some of your “players” aren’t entirely sure what they are doing. And while it was my job to try and assure they were prepared, I couldn’t guarantee it, because they were grownups and I couldn’t force them to do anything. I could decide not to use someone for a future concert, but for the present I had to field a complete team…

And of course this may all be hooey. Like everyone else, I’m dying to know why Ben is playing so badly on the road this year, and whether it is going to stop soon. Tomorrow would be a really great time for it to stop. And perhaps by the end of the season it will turn out to have been a largely meaningless blip on the radar. Let us hope.

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