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Buffalo Bills Opponent Preview: Is Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger done?

Not the usual preview but hopefully enough to go on

Ordinarily we’d do an All-22 review and take a look at our opponent but there are a few problems this week. First and foremost, the NFL made some changes to Game Pass and the All-22 footage is...gone. It’s supposed to be back soon but, as you can tell, I decided not to hold my breath.

I’d add also that in the case of Ben Roethlisberger, even if I had the All-22, there might not be much need for it. Football fans are likely familiar with his play style already. The biggest factor is age and that might be harder to show via clips anyway. Let’s make the best of a bad situation and get to it.


Well, let’s do one GIF...

This is from the second preseason game this year when Pittsburgh took on the Detroit Lions. There were several good throws from Ben in the game, mainly quick-timing passes but this one stands out. Specifically you can’t always count on there being “real game” type situations during the preseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in one when the protection failed.

Roethlisberger does Big Ben-type things. The ability to escape pressure is still there. The pump fake is elite. The throw isn’t perfect but it’s on target and this would have been a highlight reel if Eric Ebron holds on.

If I were forced to write a two-word or less entry on Ben in a galactic encyclopedia based on the preseason footage it wouldn’t read “Mostly Harmless.” Instead, I might go with “Still Dangerous.”

Next Gen Stats

I’m not the biggest fan of passer rating but it does aggregate a good deal of things in one fell swoop. And while it isn’t the absolute best stat, I do like the Next Gen Stats breakdown by zone. I like the inclusion of the league averages in each section as well.

The big takeaway here is that Roethlisberger hovered around average with two exceptions. First, the three zones to the left he performed well. Actually, he performed incredibly well. But to dump offs to the right side he did pretty badly.

Why is this important for the Buffalo Bills? To some degree, trends like this allow you to shift resources to eliminate strengths. Will Tre’Davious White be asked to float to one side for example? That wouldn’t be surprising.

Play Direction Aggregates

These charts are one of my favorite things the NFL collects and places on...a website I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention by name. Even if I can it’s probably way cooler to pretend it’s Top Secret.

The raw stats are cool, but it’s the league rankings that are really intriguing. These are technically team stats but Roethlisberger played about 92 percent of the team’s snaps on offense so it’s mostly a Ben stat.

I’ve color-coded the rankings roughly according to my rule of four. You can read the whole article here if you missed it, or check out the brief version via the GIF below.

This echoes the Next Gen stats information (not surprisingly) with a slightly less specific set of zones. I like these as they give a better indication of where Roethlisberger ranked in the league for stats beyond passer rating. And average gain and completion percentage are decent indicators of success and are more specific than passer rating.

For short passes, Big Ben did quite well to the left side of the field. He was average in the other areas when it comes to completion percentage. More importantly he was DREADFUL in average gain. Pittsburgh’s average gain on short passes in those zones were not just short, but shorter than anybody else.

On deep passes, the left side looks good. The middle looks “meh” leaning toward bad. The right side is bad. Really, really bad.


Summary

Age is likely playing a big part in these results. If you need convincing take a look at Ben’s 2018 season on Next Gen. The short version is that there are twice as many green zones, and they appear on both sides of the field.

How can a future Hall of Famer have such a drastic difference based on side of the field? Being candid, I didn’t feel the need to review the entire 2020 season to figure it out. It’s likely a combination of talent (check out Juju Smith-Schuster’s charts here) and scheme. Smith-Schuster’s charts do suggest some weighting to the left-hand side but don’t likely account entirely for the anomaly.

The short version is this: Roethlisberger is no longer in his prime, but with the right talent and scheme needs to be taken very seriously. It’s too early in the 2021 season to know if the Steelers have the right formula for success what with no real games being played yet and all. That said, the Bills get the first chance to find out.