Earlier this season, I took notice of Pro Football Focus noting how successfully San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had been off play action during this season, despite how infrequently he actually used it. Out of 40 quarterbacks, in fact, his use of play action on just 12.6 percent of his passes ranked 39th.
Yet, when he went to play action, he saw his completion percentage increase by 7.5 percentage points—one of the largest margins in the league. Additionally, his yards per attempt also climbed a steep three total yards.
This got me to wondering who was 40th on that list. Turns out it was Ben Roethlisberger.
Yes, Roethlisberger has used play action less than any other quarterback of note in the entire league, at just 11 percent.
Yet when he does use play action, he sees similarly notable increases in production, raising his completion percentage by 4.1 percent and his yards per attempt by nearly two yards.
According to PFF, Roethlisberger has taken advantage of play action on just 63 drop backs this year, with 57 resulting in passing attempts. That’s just over four passes off play action per game.
In contrast, quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Peyton Manning make frequent use of play action, though with varying results. While the young quarterbacks average more yards per attempt, their accuracy drops.
In contrast, the veteran Manning sees his accuracy improve by three percent and his yards per attempt skyrocket by 5.3 yards per attempt. In fact, without play action, Manning averages just 6.9 yards per attempt this season on 430 pass attempts.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger has thrown for more yards through the air without the use of play action than any other quarterback in the league, with 3,403 of his 3,915 yards gained in that manner. The roughly 13.5 percent of his yards gained off play action is the lowest in the league among the 25 quarterbacks that have played at least half of the team’s snaps.
Off play action, Roethlisberger has thrown for three touchdowns and two interceptions, while 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions have come without it.
His quarterback rating of 100.5 and yards per attempt of 9.2 off play action best the same numbers without play action. Under such conditions, his quarterback rating is 93.6 and his yards per attempt is 7.3.
While PFF has only been tracking the use of play action for the past two seasons, it’s interesting that Roethlisberger used play action 18.7 percent of the time last year, with similarly superior numbers, especially in terms of completion percentage.