Ben’s “”Rust” Issue, Part II



In Tuesday’s post I took a preliminary look at Ben Roethlisberger after he sits out a game for any reason, trying to decide whether his generally poor performances after returning from an injury are a matter of “rust” or something more insidious. The numbers were certainly indicative. Here, so you don’t have to switch to the previous article, are the numbers at issue:

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

First game after sitting due to injury:

Completion %: 59.5*; QB rating: 72.3; TD/INT: 8/10

*This figure is corrected. It’s still bad, but not as bad as shown in the previous post.

I also ran the numbers without the injury games, and they were very slightly lower than his career averages, except, oddly, his completion %, which is actually a bit better.

Digging a little deeper into the data, though, one interesting thing that emerges is the number of interceptions. Whereas his career average is a ratio of .53 to 1, (in other words, for every interception he throws he throws almost two touchdowns) in his first game back, for any reason, that goes up to .8 to 1—getting close to throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns.

And while removing the post-injury games improves matters, in fact Ben does throw interceptions at a higher rate after he’s been sitting a week (or more,) even if he isn’t injured—the ratio is .66 to 1.

And naturally the figures after an injury are terrible—he throws 20% more interceptions than touchdowns. So let’s take a look at the circumstances of these games and see if there are any other factors at work.

Because it’s been out there lately, let’s look at the home/road splits. The latest person to write about it is our own Hombre de Acero, and he makes an interesting case that this has gotten progressively worse through Ben’s career. You can check it out here. As a result of the attention the issue is getting lately, I thought it would make sense to look at the home/road splits in the “first game back” scenario. But since I didn’t actually show the Win-Loss record already, here it is:


  • 128-65 (about 66% win rate)
  • Sorry, but I’m not going to count home/road numbers. It’s reasonable to presume that he’s played an essentially equal number of games at home and on the road.

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

  • 11 wins, 12 losses
  • Of those games, 10 were home games and 13 road games
  • Of the wins, 9 of the 11 were prior to 2012

First game after sitting due to injury: 

  • 1 win, 6 losses
  • Three were home games, four were road games. The sole win was a road game, in 2011.

In other words, the plot thickens. As I noted above, Hombre de Acero broke down Ben’s home/road splits by coordinator, concluding that Ben has had by far the worst home/road splits under Todd Haley. He also notes that age is almost certainly a factor in this. There is nothing else to suggest that this is somehow due to Todd Haley’s play-calling. In fact, Ben has been sacked much less under Haley than under Arians, which is part of the reason the change was made.

Unfortunately the data for the injury component is really a small amount. However, it is pretty indicative. A quick look at the game details in the previous post shows that the losses can be laid pretty squarely on the shoulders of Ben and the offense. The average number of points scored in the wins is 24—the average in losses in 18.6. If you further divide it into home/road points, for wins at home the average is 25.8 points, while the average for home losses is 23.8 points. Now check this out—the offense only averages 22.5 points in road wins, less than the average for a home loss, and the average for road losses is a paltry 15 points per game.

So you can see that, whatever the cause of Ben’s home/road splits getting increasingly worse, it clearly exacerbates the situation if he’s coming back from injury and has to play on the road. I just went to check as to whether Karim Kassim is still the stats guruand his name doesn’t appear anywhere on the staff list. But if I were advising Mike Tomlin, I think I would tell him not to bother to play Ben if he’s been injured and the first game he could theoretically play is on the road. I think I would sit him another week.

Why is this? Is it a real thing at all, or just an artifact of a really small sample size? Maybe, but the data, such as it is, is pretty compelling. For one thing, it isn’t a case of Ben playing a terrific game but being undermined by a poor defensive effort, although heaven knows the defense has occasionally made matters worse. But since the 2010 Super Bowl, here are the scores of his first game back from whatever, injury or not, win or lose, when the game is on the road: 13, 13, 19, 30, 14. Here are the points if he’s coming back from an injury since 2011, whether at home or away, win or lose: 13, 24, 10, 14. These are not impressive numbers.

Finally, some speculation. Since I’ve been using horn players, having a professional in the family and all, I’ll stick with that. When our youngest was in high school we thought he had the perfect personality for a horn player. Nothing seemed to faze him. Big solo approaching? No big deal. He would slap his horn onto his face mere nanoseconds before he had to play. It drove his horn teacher crazy. It usually came out pretty well, too. Fast forward to the present and the situation is very different, despite the fact that he’s far better prepared and, as you would hope, a very much better player.

The illustration isn’t perfect, because as a high school kid not that much is riding on it. My son now has a family to support and a reputation to preserve. But isn’t that also true of Ben, in some ways? When he started out he was just a big kid being paid stupid amounts of money to play a game. He presumably will never have to worry about money unless he’s been really dumb with the proceeds of his last few contracts, but he’s looking now to build a legacy, and sees the window closing.

And just as my son now knows enough to know all the things that can go wrong when you begin to play, I’m guessing that each injury makes you slightly more gun-shy, if you will. After all, the chances are just a little higher each time that the next injury will be the one that ends your career, due to the slower healing and general breakdown of the body these guys experience. Just like the rest of us, but about 30 years sooner.

And if you’re out there on, say, an insufficiently healed knee, you don’t know for sure how it is going to respond, and you don’t know if you are going to re-injure it. I’m guessing that after you make it through one game you feel rather more confident, and you would expect as a result the numbers for the second game back to be a good bit better.

But I’m saving that for the next installment. And I do promise to get to some figures for other QBs. Eventually…


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    Before the season started I thought Ben might want to consider retirement at the end of the season. Nothing has changed my mind about this.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Appreciate the work Rebecca those numbers are eye opening and I tend to agree with your speculation. Ben clearly had no focus thru 3+ quarters of football. How does that happen to a QB with his experience? 8 for 18 for 54 yards and an interception through three quarters. The play calling certainly did not help matters but I am pretty sure he can check out of many of those play calls at the line. I remember the San Fran game. Ben had no business playing in that game because he looked like the Statue of Liberty standing back there. What about the Bengals playoff game at the end? Ben couldn’t throw past ten yards. What should coach Tomlin do in these cases? Should coach lay down the law and pull the star Ben Rolthlisberger out and put in LJ or Berger or whomever? Could you imagine BB sitting on the bench against the Ravens in the 4th QTR? I think from past experiences we all know the answer to that question. Denver did it to Peyton Manning so why not? Maybe because a hurt, tentative BB still seems a much better choice than our healthy experienced backups even though your numbers say otherwise.
    Anyway, lot’s of ball left to play and barring any more significant injuries I still think we can get to the playoffs and if we get hot at the right time go deep in the dance. BB has some magic left in him this year. He still throws a great deep ball and can sling it with the best of them. I would bet the house that Big Ben will not even consider retirement this season or next.


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