Was It Injury Or Lack Of Adjustments That Caused Poor Play By Roethlisberger Down The Stretch?

It is safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense wasn\’t the same when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup after sitting out three games due to injuries that he suffered in the week 10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Team president Art Rooney II was looking for words during his Wednesday Q & A session with several members of the Pittsburgh media to describe what happened when Roethlisberger came back from his injury.

“The injury obviously changed things and we really never regained our rhythm or balance or whatever the right word is after the injury and when Ben came back,” Rooney said. “It’s a little hard to evaluate the whole season on that. When any team loses their starting quarterback, it has a dramatic effect. You have to evaluate in terms of when our quarterback was healthy. I think we were getting pretty good results and they were the results we hoped for.”

Was an injured Roethlisberger really part of the problem down the stretch, or was there something else that led to him having a 56.4% completion percentage in the final four games of the season?

“I’ll never make excuses,” Roethlisberger said, when asked prior to the final regular season game against the Cleveland Browns if he was still dealing with injury-issues down the stretch. “We can talk about that in the offseason maybe. I feel good enough to play.”

“It’s unfortunate,” the Steelers quarterback later continued. “Injuries are never fun. But you know me, I won’t make excuses. I’ve got to be able to step-up and perform afterwards just as well as I did before.”

Now I am sure that Roethlisberger wasn\’t 100% upon returning from his injury, but the 40 yard touchdown throw to Mike Wallace in the loss to the San Diego Chargers, his first game back mind you, was an absolute dart, and perhaps his single best throw all season.

That deep pass showed that Roethlisberger still could throw the deep ball, and as a matter of fact, he completed 4 of 15 throws of 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage down the stretch for a 27% completion percentage. Prior to him getting injured he was 7 of 30 (23%) on throws of 20 yards or more past the line.

Not only was Roethlisberger more accurate with those long throws when he returned from his injury, he was also more accurate on his throws of 15 to 19 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to our play-by-play charting. Prior to his injury he was 18 of 38 (47%) on all throws of that distance and 11 of 17 (65%) upon his return.

So if Roethlisberger was better with the mid range to deep throws upon his return, then he must have suffered with his shorter throws, right? Right.

Prior to him getting injured he was 26 of 35 (74%) on his throws 10 to 14 yards past the line versus 14 of 24 (58%) upon his return. On his throws less than 10 yards he was 157 of 207 (76%) prior to his injury and 46 of 76 (61%) upon his return.

So why was there a drop-off in Roethlisberger\’s completion percentage on the shorter throws upon his return from injury? I think that he probable put it best following the loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

“They’re definitely keeping an eye on a lot of our short passes, the quick game, as we call it, because we’ve done a lot of it,” said Roethlisberger, when asked if defenses were starting to be more effective at disrupting the timing on short passes. “That’s how we started the year and we’ve been pretty successful at doing that stuff. They have sat on a lot of short routes, which means we need to take advantage of that, double-move and push the depth a little more.”

Left tackle Max Starks also hinted down the stretch in one of his interviews that defenses were playing more zone in addition. The tape shows this in those final four games, as well as more press coverage at times in addition. Thrown in on top of that is the fact that defenses did a good job at stopping the Steelers running game with only 7 men in the box a lot of the time. This allowed for more two deep safety looks that provided better bracket coverage.

The Steelers route combinations never compensated enough with vertical routes to counteract this and it didn\’t help that the receivers weren\’t gaining the separation that they did earlier in the season.

Defenses, on third down in particularly, did a much better job at protecting the chains on third downs as well. Remember the crucial third down play late in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals? On that play it is if the Bengals knew exactly what was coming their way.

Is all of this an indictment of offensive coordinator Todd Haley and his inability to adjust once defenses did a better job taking away the shorter passing game? Call it what you will, but I don\’t think that you can pin this on Roethlisberger being less than 100% when he returned from his injury. The amount of throws down the field increased some down the stretch, but not enough and the numbers are skewed a bit thanks to the loss to the Chargers, as they had no choice but to throw deep.

The Steelers offensive line was a mess down the stretch, so yes, that needs to be taken into consideration in all of this. Roethlisberger also made a few bad decisions as well in the three games that mattered and the running game was pretty much non existent.

Should Haley wind up not getting the head-coaching position with the Arizona Cardinals he will be back in Pittsburgh for chance to fix things. A priority will be to not only get the running game on track, but to also add more vertical elements to his offense to counteract the teams that insist on defending the Steelers the way that they did down the stretch this season. They likely won\’t have Wallace, who is all set to test free agency, to stretch the field in 2013, so you can expect the team will have to address his position at some point during the draft.

In the aforementioned quote that Rooney gave he said that the offense “never regained rhythm or balance or whatever the right word is.” The word that Rooney was looking for is, “adjusted”, as that is what the offense did very little of once Roethlisberger returned from his injury.

15 – 19182003847%12.3%
10 to 1426903574%11.3%
less than 1015749120776%66.8%
15 – 1911601765%12.9%
10 to 1414912458%18.2%
less than 10462827661%57.6%

  • steeltown

    Its pretty evident that the Steelers need to stay healthy, BUT also they need another dimension on Offense and that would be a big bodied WR, not another small quick Brown & Sanders type player, but a nice big target. They cant seem to get one of these types of players, Sweed & Clemons are the last two that come to mind…. and obviously another RB is also needed, one with speed and/or quickness

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    You have to convert 3rd downs. If you can’t stay on the field, you don’t get enough plays to get everyone involved or to show all the dimensions of the offense. If you focused on just the 3rd downs, you’d find a number of reasons why they went from being the best converting team at the beginning of the season to one of the weakest. There were bad throws, penalties, missed assignments, drops, and bad plays.

  • zyzak

    Haley’s offense got stale and defenses were ready for the short stuff. . Couple that with the lack of a running game and that’s why the team underachieved on offense.

    Even when they were 5-3 they didn’t score many points After the KC game they were 6-3 but was anyone convinced the offense had taken off?

  • Dan

    Exactly what I’ve been saying. Get a “tree trunk” WR with a build similar to Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson, or even Torrey Smith. Somebody who can stretch the field but still be able to catch passes in traffic, and also be physical enough to fight for the ball and beat press coverage. (Mike Wallace failed at everything other than stretching the field, so he’s expendable.)

  • That type of WR would help our offense way more than another Wallace IMO. Ward was never big, but he made up for it by catching everything. We don’t have that now.

  • steeltown

    Exactly, he wouldnt have to be a speedster either, want him to have some speed, but he doesnt have to run a 4.3 or anything. Hope they attempt to grap another big bodied guy this year, somewhere around 2nd-4th Rds

  • steeltown

    Yep, I like Cotchery’s toughness and good hands, but we need another element to add to the Brown/Sanders/Cotchery group, wish Burress was 5-6yrs younger

  • Kysteeler

    I think it was the offense as a whole preformed poorly in the 2nd half of the season, fumbles, dropped passes, misreads. Our expectations could have not be very high coming into the season with the Mendy injury, new O-cord, Wallace missing camp (lucky he wasn’t injured before Browns game), and many other issues before the season even started.

  • Pete

    Wallace’s play tailed off in the 2nd half of 2011, he skipped the entire 2012 camp and preseason and his play never recovered. The O line was a mess after injuries and you can’t run without a good O line unless your name is Barry Sanders. When you can’t run you’ll live and die by the pass. Your WRs had better come up big but they made too many mistakes at crucial times. The failed 2nd half of the season with the above issues and Ben’s injury contributed heavily to the 8-8 season.

    None of this is Haley’s fault. Even if you are predictable you have to execute. They were predictable in the 1st half of the season and were 6-3. Giving the ball to Franco Harris and Bettis were predictable and yet they continually churned out the yards. This is the 1st year in a long time that I’ve heard veteran players criticizing the work ethic of some younger players.

  • Dan

    I’d say third or fourth round. The defense needs the first two picks.

  • LucasY59

    Swope from Texas A&M looks like he could be the closest thing to Hines in this draft, Unfortunately finding a player exactly like Hines will be very hard to do, especially when all the young recievers only want to be faster or taller than the defense and almost none will be as physical or block like Ward

  • No question that after his injuries he wasnt the same…and when he landed hard you would see him rotating his arm and looked to be in discomfort. I think he was hurt worse than what was percieved.

  • daniel_nfl2007

    If you really think about it without all of Ben’s clutch 3rd down conversions in the 1st half of the year this offense was terrible. So I don’t think our offense was ever really good this year just Ben made it seem better than it actually was.

  • r4kolb

    You know it’s bad when Haley’s play calling has us missing BA.

  • Every QB is gonna toss int’s but Bens just seem to happen at the most crucial parts of games this past season. You just can’t throw them when you are backed up on your side of the field (pick-sixes) as well as when you are in the red zone preparing to score. This has been going on since the SB loss to the Packers so I think I am going to go with Lack of Adjustments. In spite of that, he is still our best chance at QB to get another trophy.

  • steeltown

    Agreed, we do seem to have a knack for finding good WR’s in the 3rd Rd (Ward, Wallace, Sanders)

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Offensive players not on same page with each other before the game starts, means poor planning. Coaches slept through preseason, then they didnt practice enuff before each regular season game. Healthy receivers were not on same page as QBs during regular season. And there is not enuff incentiv for them to be more on same page next season. And our stadium will sell out every game the next 10 years regardless Rooneys get their money from that regardless.

    Re Ben, remember the week before our last SuperBowl Ben partied while Aaron Rogers studied, then in that SB Ben was not on same page with WRs, vs Aaron threaded needles that game. Ben studies defenses enough if he wants to.

    If Ben & receivers dont practice timing enough again next year, they’ll just keep firing offensiv coordinators. Not enuff incentiv to practice.

  • Haley is a total mess and anyone who is naive enough to believe he is capable of fixing anything should be making dinner reservations for tomorrow on the planet Mars . There is zero way that Arizona (or for that matter anyone else) is hiring this guy after what they saw this year. So the Steelers better be thinking about how to give him somega kind of a totally b.s. job where he can.t, screw things up. Too much.

  • Dan

    And that’s why Ben Roethlisberger remains the most underrated QB in the NFL. Everybody loves to talk about how great his defense is, but those people forget three things:

    1. Defense is only one part of a football team.
    2. He’s never on the field with his defense.
    3. He really hasn’t gotten much help from the rest of his offense in the last five seasons.

    I was envious watching Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in the playoffs. They both had stellar support from the other 10 players on their offenses. The only players Roethlisberger can depend on from week to week or season to season are Heath Miller and Maurkice Pouncey. A TE and a C ain’t enough to bring out the best in a QB.