Road Woes: A Roethlisberger Update

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via Steelers.com

In my Roethlisberger Rust series I discussed the disconcerting trend in Ben Roethlisberger’s home/road splits, and put together some charts illustrating them, from the standpoints of completion %, NFL QB rating, and ESPN’s QBR rating. I’ve been updating the charts as the season continues, and as you might suspect, things look better. Or at least they did before last week’s stinker of a game. Actually it was a beautiful game, unless you had something riding on Ben’s performance.

I decided to update this after watching this week’s episode of DDFP’s “Red Challenge Flag Picks.” While all the panelists picked the Steelers to win, there was a rather lengthy discussion (especially considering the segment is less than a half hour long and covers the whole league) about Ben’s home/road splits.

First, here are the charts I published just about a month ago, which would be right before the Steelers started winning again, followed by the updated charts which don’t include the Bills game. [I’m going to leave off the completion % charts, since they are a bit redundant.] The updated charts do include two road games, @CLE and @IND:

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I made the charts rather small so you can compare side by side (or so I hope.) The only thing you really need to look at is the last points in each plot. And this illustrates part of the difficulty of such things—the small sample size. Here are the original charts and the updated charts, with the Buffalo game added:

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As you can see, they still look better than they did a month ago, but there is no denying that, for whatever reason, Ben hasn’t played well on the road this season. And the big question is, why? He was asked this by an intrepid reporter, and shrugged and said “It’s really hard to win on the road.” But other quarterbacks don’t seem to find it so. Nor, for that matter, has he at certain points in his career. I refuse to believe the theory of one of Dave Dameshek’s guests—that he sneaks out the night before the game on the road and “ties one on” until the wee hours of the morning. I might have believed that of the old Ben—although for such a fierce competitor even that is a stretch—but I refuse to believe it of the new improved version of Ben.

I’m guessing it is nothing more or less complicated than psychology. If you screw up something once, unless it is life-changing, you generally just shrug and move on. But do it again several times and you start to get obsessed by it. I think it is probably a combination of more difficulty communicating in a hostile environment, as Mike Tomlin would say, combined with Ben trying too hard. After all, he’s almost certainly trying to prove to everyone, including himself, that the whole thing is a fluke.

One of the other statistical oddities is how well he has generally played in the Bengal’s home stadium. I decided to plot this over the years and see what I could find. And alas, I found that during about half his career (five games—2004, 2006-8, and 2014) he has played better—even at times, considerably better—in the CIN game in Cincinnati than his overall average or even than his home average. But in the other six games (2005, 2009-13, and 2015) he played more poorly than his season average, occasionally considerably worse. In most of those years he even played more poorly than his road average. So I guess there isn’t as much comfort to be taken there as I had hoped.

But one stat reigns supreme—wins—and in those terms the Steelers as a team have dominated at Paul Brown Stadium. Since 2004 they have won 10 times and lost twice. And after all it is more important to come out with a win than that Ben has a monster game, although those help.

I’ve promised a comparison to other QBs, and I really will get to that. It may not be until the offseason, though, the way life seems to be on a breakneck pace. But there will be plenty of time to contemplate these things in the long months devoid of Steelers games. Let’s just hope the long months devoid of Steelers games don’t begin until sometime like, say, February 6th. A win tomorrow would definitely help to work toward that goal.

 

 

9 comments

  • Looks like a lot of the dichotomy is because he’s ELEVATED his game at home so much in the last few years. His road stats aren’t all that out of line with some of his prior years, but he’s playing the best football of his career at home. Very strange.

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    • My “stats guy” response is that there does seem to be something to the home/away split, but I don’t think it’s probably as pronounced as it looks, especially this year. It just so happens that Ben was playing injured in two of this year’s road games, Miami and Baltimore, while he was healthy for all the home games. The Eagles game also seems to be less about a Big Ben’s road struggles as it does a bad a bad game for pretty much everyone and the offense passing 44 times to 9 runs.

      My “armchair psychologist” response is that those who think Ben’s poor performance on the road is because he’s started partying when on the road have it exactly backwards. Ben’s road/home splits were virtually identical until he got married in July of 2011 and went on to have his best year ever while at home (with his wife, “partying”) and worst year ever on the road (away from his wife, not partying). He briefly evened out again in 2012-2013, but then the splits show up again 3 years running. I think there’s good reason to suppose that the reason Roethlisberger has not played as well on the road for 4 out of the 6 years he’s been married is because he’s a married guy now and going on the road affects him more than it did before. As a young single guy, home was wherever he laid his hat. Now, he’s out of routine and missing his wife when he’s on the road and it affects his mental preparation and focus for the game.

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      • I love your analysis. Makes sense to me… Apparently the stuff like diapers and little kids running around making a lot of noise aren’t an issue for him.

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      • And yet Paul Brown warned his players about “dissipation” (his word) the night before games. And he wasn’t referring specifically to the fondness for the grape. Homer thinks Coach Brown was wrong. A little nuk-nuk with the one you love helps you sleep better, and that lovey-dovey thing gives you something to play for. So long as you’re not a 60-minute man, and leave enough time for a good night;’s rest, it’s a good thing to be in your sweet baby’s arms the night before combat.

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    • Excellent point—I hadn’t really noticed that, but you’ve got a great point, and as soon as you said it I realized it jumps right off the charts…

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      • It’s kind of a nice thing too. As a fan of the team I would obviously prefer that he could maintain his elevated level of play on the road, but in real life terms it’s great that the Roethlisberger’s seem to have a really happy home. At the time when Ben married, I’ll admit that I was a little suspicious that he was significantly motivated just by the need to repair his public image after the “Blairsville Incident.” It’s nice to see, though, that he’s apparently turned into a true family man.

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