By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has earned a reputation over the years for extending plays beyond what the average quarterback would be willing to do, and rightfully so. Frequently, his ability to extend the play results in a big gain down the field, because a defensive back can only track a receiver for so long before something breaks down.
Often, however, it has just resulted in Roethlisberger taking yet another unnecessary hit. The tenth-year veteran already holds the distinction of having been sacked significantly more than anybody else in the league since his rookie season.
Yet it is also true that Roethlisberger has gotten better at preventing these unnecessary negative plays. It was a directive sent down in earnest from team president Art Rooney II and emphasized by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley last season.
However, it actually began in earnest the year before, when the team as a whole gave up a combined 59 sacks and hits on the quarterback, which, in recent years, is a low figure, considering there were years of Roethlisberger being sacked nearly that many times over the course of a season.
Pro Football Focus tracks not only sacks, hits, and hurries on the quarterback, but also who surrenders them, and they include the quarterback in that blame game. For 2011, the site credits Roethlisberger for two of his own sacks and for being responsible for being hurried on three other instances on nearly 600 passing snaps.
In 2012, Roethlisberger is credited with forfeiting two sacks, two hits, and two hurries in 511 drop backs, which is somewhat more than the year before, but is still an improvement upon earlier seasons.
Roethlisberger had an awful hard time of things keeping himself upright since his rookie season, but it got even worse as many of the team’s pedigreed linemen, such as Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings, left the team.
2008 is when things really started coming apart along the offensive line, when the team surrendered 52 sacks and another 41 hits, to go along with 130 hurries. That year, Roethlisberger dropped back 552 times, and in his efforts to make plays, he gave himself up for a sack on four occasions and was hurried two other times.
This was the same year that center Justin Hartwig gave up 11 sacks and eight hits all by himself, which may well be historically poor numbers from the center position, so it is amazing that Roethlisberger even had enough time to put himself in positions that left him with the primary blame for having been sacked a few times.
It only got worse over the course of the next two seasons. In 2009, in just over 600 drop backs, he was blamed for nine of his own sacks, to go along with another hit and a hurry. He missed the first four games of the 2010 season, and yet he still put himself in position to be sacked unnecessarily seven times, and relinquished two hits and a hurry on three other occasions on his 455 passing plays.
It is certainly a good thing that Ben Roethlisberger has gained a greater understanding of how to safely extend plays as the years go on, as it should help him to extend his career by avoiding a great number of unnecessary hits. Of course, as the offensive line gets better, he should also have less cause to descend into sandlot mode with such frequency.