A Closer Look At Ben Roethlisberger’s Road Struggles: Part 2

In the first part of this study, I charted the differences between Ben Roethlisberger’s home and away QB Rating, TDs/INTs, Attempts and Completions Per Game, Yards/Game, and Attempts/Game and found that he performed worse in each of these categories when playing on the road. In this article, I tried to take an in-depth look at the opponents that Roethlisberger faced from 2014-2016 in hopes of finding a possible explanation for his poor road play. Although I found a couple of things that might partially account for some of his struggles, I was ultimately unable to find a “smoking gun” that could explain his poor performances.

Opponents Win Percentage

The first thing that I thought might be a factor in Roethlisberger’s struggles was that maybe he simply faced tougher competition on the road. Unfortunately; however, with a very slight exception in 2015, it turns out that he actually played better opponents when at home:

Next, I thought that Roethlisberger’s road opponents might be better teams when playing at their home field and that his home opponents might generally play worse when on the road (compared to their overall win %). Although this did, in fact, turn out to be the case, it obviously does not entirely explain his problems. Almost every NFL team plays better at home (and worse on the road), but not every Quarterback shows a similar decline in their quality of play, especially other elite QBs.  Nevertheless, as you can see from the chart below, Roethlisberger did face somewhat tougher competition when on the road, if we are only evaluating based on his opponent’s exclusive home or away win percentages, rather than their overall win percentage:

Opposing Defenses

I also looked at the individual defenses that Roethlisberger faced, and tried to see if he specifically played against tougher defenses on the road (rather than tougher overall teams). First, I found that, on average, the defenses he faced allowed about 2 fewer points per game at their home stadiums compared to the defenses he played at Heinz Field (who were away from their home stadiums).  While this possibly shows that Roethlisberger played against easier defenses at Heinz Field, this stat obviously cannot fully explain the huge disparity between his home/away TD pass numbers, given that he averaged about two more TD passes in home games than to away games. (Just to be clear, the Yellow Bars in the graph below represent the average Points Allowed/Game that opponents surrendered in their road games in each season, whereas the White Bars represent the average Points Allowed/Game that opponents surrendered in their home games. Sorry if this is confusing).

I also found that Roethlisberger was sacked more often in road games than he was in home games. This stat probably has at least a small causal relationship with his poor road performances, given that QBs generally perform worse when under more pressure; however, it is at best only a partial explanation since the home and away sack totals are fairly similar.

I also charted the average QB Rating and the average Yards/Game that other quarterbacks achieved against Roethlisberger’s road opponents and compared it to the averages other QBs achieved against his home opponents. Using this metric, I found that he faced slightly easier defenses on the road when looking at QB Rating (which makes his poor road QB Rating even more bizarre), but slightly tougher defenses when it comes to average Yards/Game:

  • For reference: In 2014, Roethlisberger had an average home QB Rating of 114.8 and an average road QB Rating of 91.0.
  • In 2015, he had an averaged rating of 102.4 at home and 86.0 on the road.
  • In 2016, he averaged 116.7 at home and only 78.4 on the road.
  • This statistical trend is very surprising, given that Roethlisberger seemingly shredded his comparatively stronger home competition, but struggled greatly against weaker road defenses.

  • For reference: In 2014, Roethlisberger averaged 347.3 y/g at home and 271.8 y/g on the road.
  • In 2015, he averaged 348 y/g at home and 308.3 y/g on the road
  • In 2016, he averaged 319.2 y/g at home and 238 y/g on the road.
  • It’s worth noting that although Roethlisberger shows a decline in his yards per game in road games, he still generally performed well above the average QB in this category.

Weather Conditions

Lastly, I wanted to see if weather conditions were a possible contributing factor to Ben’s road struggles. Unfortunately, he played in an equal number of rain/snow games and his road games were also slightly warmer on average.  Moreover, Roethlisberger also played in several Dome games on the road, which obviously make the weather a non-issue:

About the Author

Sean McKaveney

Sean McKaveney is currently a student at the UCLA School of Law and was formerly the starting Quarterback and Team Captain for Claremont McKenna College, a Top 10 Liberal Arts school in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in Southern California, Sean was raised as a diehard Steelers fan by his father, a Pittsburgh native. The Steelers are undefeated in games that Sean has attended.

  • VaDave

    Sean, first of all, kudos on these series totally awesome. Great insight. I do have a question when you are doing your comparatives . When you are talking about winning percentages, and other stats, are you talking about the records at season end, or at the time the game is played? The reason I ask is teams ebb and flow through the course of a season. One thing is for sure, regardless, Ben is about 30% less effective on the road last year, and for a franchise QB, somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

  • Dubb Betts

    Another part of the road struggle is for whatever reason the play calling gets real conservative on the road

  • Sean McKaveney

    I used the W/L record from season’s end, but it’s a totally fair point about teams getting hot or cold during the course of the year. I will make a graph of opponent win % from the time when the games were played and post it to twitter in a day or two.

  • Jaybird

    Sean can you give us a comparison of Ben vs some other decent QBs , like Rodgers , Eli, Matt Ryan,Stanford and Luck. I’d like to see just how unusually Ben’s home / road stats are compared to other QB’s.
    Would that be too much work?

  • Jacob

    Not sure if this is a factor, but Ben often plays more poorly when comining off an injury. His deep ball seemed to be much better this year before the injury than at any time after.

  • Robert E Lil

    Super interesting
    It gets at his inconsistent play
    Which makes us fans crazy!

  • VaDave

    Thanks Sean. Again, this has been areal eye opener for me. And for a guy that is not real keen on saber metrics, that’s saying something. BTW, not to make this more of a mess, I ran into something interesting on Steelers.com you may want to look at. If you go to schedule, select the year you want, then on each game there is a game day tab that has some of the inside info, like who is dinged up, or out for the day. You might find it good grist to run with along with the stats. Just an idea.

  • VaDave

    Speaking of not being sure, ever read the side of a bottle of pain meds? That blurb about not drive cars or operating heavy machinery? Something about slowing reaction times. Makes you wonder….

  • RickM

    There’s no question as you say that Ben played better before the injury. I mean he had 3 of 5 games with 300 yards+ passing before the injury and only 1 of 9 games after the injury. But the injury had the same effect on his subsequent mechanics whether he was at home or on the road.

    I respectfully think it’s far more likely related to: greater pressure on the road (sacks were up almost 50% over the last two years); more conservative play calling as several fans have suggested; and for whatever reason less mental focus on Ben’s part.

  • francesco

    I believe one needs to study the hotel mattresses and pillows. Are they softer and fluffier?

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    If I recall a lot of the teams last yr had a losing record or at least .500 and the Steelers catapulted some of their winning streaks

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I honestly think Ben was playing hurt for most of the season last yr one of the first 3 games I believe he hurt his throwing hand and really haven’t been throwing decent ever since

  • Dan

    The following is a list of teams that the Steelers lost to on the road who had a losing record at the time they played:

    1. Dolphins.

    End of list.

  • Dan

    I get the sense that conservative play-calling and inconsistent offensive line have something to do with the home/road dichotomy. It’s not like the rest of the offense plays flawlessly on the road and Roethlisberger just blows it all out his rear. More like Roethlisberger doesn’t play quite as well on the road as he does at home, but other factors beyond him are exacerbating the difference.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Your right I stand corrected

  • falconsaftey43

    Last year with lead rating was 98.7. Ties was 98.7. Trailing was 90.4

  • falconsaftey43

    I’m not buying OL or inconsistent offense. It’s Ben and the WRs. Yes, he was sacked more in away games, but only averaged 1.25 sacks on the road in 2016 which extrapolates to 20 in a season (or 2nd best in NFL last year). Bell also averaged more total yards per game on the road with a small decrease in rushing yards but an increase in receiving yards.

  • falconsaftey43

    In 2016 his road sack rate was 1.25 per game which for a whole season would only come out to 20 sacks (2nd best in NFL). Might be nominally more pressure, but it’s still fantastic pass protection.

  • RickM

    Yes, but if you’re doing a strict home-road statistical comparison of performance you have to use hard numbers for each location. His sacks were up almost 50% on the road over the last two years. And if there was a similar increase in hurries it’s meaningful. It’s pretty tough to say after the Philly and Miami games that the O-L comes to play at all times on the road.

  • RickM

    That’s an interesting theory. We’ll probably never know. I think the loss of a healthy Coates also hurt tremendously, but that effect would be felt at home and on the road. So it doesn’t explain the inconsistency.

  • Mark

    We look for stats, weather, injuries, sacks, what time he got up, whether he slept well, was another child on the way, did he drive at a high rate of speed coming to the game.

    Please stop!

    I’ve watched every game that he has played and while I’m impressed with his ability to improvise, Ben is an easy QB to defense. Make him audible, double AB, play everyone else man to man forcing him to throw into tight windows. Ben doesn’t often “throw receivers open”.

    Last but not least, he’s only won 1 Superbowl and was almost the scapegoat for that Superbowl against Arizona. He definitely didn’t win the SB against Seattle, that was the defense, Willie P, and Hines. The Superbowl against the Packers he had a pic 6.

    We pay him $20 plus million a year for him to be a drama queen about retirement, injuries, etc…

  • falconsaftey43

    I disagree. Yes, they were up, but you have to look at the what that higher number is, and it’s still tops in the league in terms of how often guys are getting there. It’s going from unbelievably good protection to just really really good protection. That should have that big of an impact. If you look at total sack rate of other QBs for the season (sacks/pass attempts) his home sack rate would place him 2nd in the league, his road sack rate would be 4th. Yes, percentage wise it’s up considerably in terms of total sacks, but that’s only because his home sack numbers are so ridiculously low.

  • falconsaftey43

    But then, if he’s so easy to defend, is he one the very best QBs in the league when playing at home. We’re just trying to discover why there is such a big difference.

  • RickM

    Respectfully, where they ranked in the league is a total non-issue. This is a comparison of one player’s performance – at home and on the road. You either use actual numbers for both home and road locations, or you don’t do the comparison. You can’t take one of the stats and say for example ‘yes but that is actually a pretty good road interception rate compared to most other QB’s’. It’s Ben to Ben in my opinion, not Ben versus the rest of the league. The last word is yours.

  • RickM

    I love the 2005 comment about him in the SB. He definitely played badly in it. But of course you conveniently forgot to mention our three playoff wins that got us to the SB. He threw 7 TD’s versus 1 INT as we beat Cincy, Indy and Denver all on the road. I’m sincerely sorry that you’ve had to suffer for 13 years with this type of QB. Hang tough; he’ll be gone soon enough.

  • falconsaftey43

    Ok, I did the extra work. His Away sack rate of 3.53% ranked 5th among all other QB away sack rates.

    His home sack rate of 3.10% was 1st among all QBs.

    HIs away sack rate would have ranked 4th best among home sack rates.

    He had excellent pass protection both home and away. Yes the % change between home and away looks significant, but that’s because of the very small numbers we’re dealing with.

    Perhaps this will explain it better. Imagine if he had been sacked once at home and twice on the road all season. He would have been sacked twice as much on the road as at home, but you’d never say that was the reason his road performance suffered.

  • Mark

    Rick, you’re absolutely right. He played like a beast getting us to the Superbowl. He definitely deserves credit, however, he has had some equal lowlights in playoff games, especially New England. I’m just tired of the drama associated with him and Ben speaking out on other teammates and coaches publicly. Please leave Bell alone, because without him, our season and his is over.

  • RickM

    That’s a very fair comment Mark. I guess I would ask the question I always ask. Were you troubled that both Heyward and Shazier called out the D for playing poorly? Were you troubled that Bell criticized practises, saying ‘we make the same sloppy mistakes in practise’ (and they are not corrected). Did Heyward’s criticism of McCuller – he has to be more aggressive – bother you?

    If you were troubled by these other comments then no sweat. But if Ben’s comments are the only ones that bother you, then that’s reflective of a bias.

  • RickM

    That’s excellent work but it omits a very important factor. The level of competition was far higher at home as we faced N.E., K.C., Dallas and the Giants. The O-line was superb at home. But they slumped on the road. Calculating the sack rate without considering the level of competition and hurries doesn’t tell the true story in my opinion. Ben was very poor on the road, but IMO pass protection declined more than you are suggesting. Unless facing N.E., Dallas, K.C., the Giants and the Jets is similar in talent to facing Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Indianapolis and Buffalo. Going from 7 to 10 sacks with that discrepancy in home-road competition is surprising. You’d expect the reverse.

    Personally, the pretty light-weight road schedule damns Ben’s road performance even more. But it also demonstrates the O-line didn’t play close to the way they did at home when one factors in the level of competition faced…which seems awfully important.

  • falconsaftey43

    I’ll admit that the OL’s performance wasn’t as good on the road as it was at home. But you can’t say that Ben didn’t have VERY VERY good offensive line play in front of him, even away. He still only got sacked 10 times (and I’m assuming a proportionate number of hurries) on the road. If that’s too much pressure that it causes Ben’s performance to be really poor, then that’s a HUGE problem, as expecting better protection than that is unrealistic. Heck, if it weren’t for the meaningless Browns game to end the year, the OL would have set a franchise record for fewest sacks allowed.

    If their sack numbers away were even in the middle of the pack, then I’d be willing to blame them some. But they are at the top of the league.

  • RickM

    The O-line remains good for sure and it was not a major factor. Just a contributor, although admittedly I’m curious about the ‘hurry’ numbers.

    Ben is easily #1 on the blame chart; Haley is #2 (witness his play call from the one-foot line in N.E.); and the O-L is likely well back in third. I don’t include the lesser receivers as a factor because Ben had those at home and on the road and they didn’t hamper him at home one bit. Maybe they didn’t play as well on the road and had a lesser ability to get open; but there’s no way of knowing that

  • falconsaftey43

    My thinking with the young WRs on the road, is maybe the noise caused communications issues with them. More wrong routes etc. because they didn’t hear and audible or something like that. Pure speculations on my part, but would seem to make sense.

    I don’t get too hard on Haley for the NE goal line call. I’d have liked to see a QB sneak, but that’s clearly something this team doesn’t do (for whatever reason). Apart from that, everyone was screaming for Haley not running it on the goaline the week prior. IDK, people pretty much like play call based on the result. If Williams was able to push it in, I’m sure everyone would have said it was a great call to adjust from the previous game where Ben threw an INT in a goal to go situation.

  • So you’re looking for stats about why Ben does poorly on the road in these last years, just drilling down in the results of the bad years. The answer to why isn’t going to pop out of the data of the results.

    He wasn’t always bad on the road, in fact he played some awesome games on the road as a younger player. To evaluate a step change like this, maybe best to look at what’s different about the team before and after. Maybe worth looking at the types of plays attempted during those different intervals and maybe even personnel and situational playcalling before and after. If you want to find a causal relationship, you need to tie the influencing factor with outcomes.

    Some speculation from me:

    Munchak is the most direct factor as he joined the team in 2014. Road offense faces noise with silent snap counts. Maybe he’s doing something different that’s causing trouble.

    The other big difference is Haley, who came in a few years before the step but I think it’s fair to say it took Ben some time to adapt his mindset to Haley’s philosophy. Part of the OC change is the loss of BA. We know he was close to Ben. Maybe helped keep him in the right head-space. You might suggest the same of Batch leaving.

    Bell came into his own during this era too. Is something about the silent play calling limiting them from doing what they do best on the road?

  • popsiclesticks

    Might be a chicken and egg thing there.

  • k33ger

    Have you broken it down by injured players missing (Bryant injury, etc) and also Ben’s injuries?

    Further have you eliminated outliers that can be dragging down his overall numbers? For instance, I know he has had one or two just absolute stinkers.

    For the most part, my impressions in the past have been different reasons for struggles. Sometimes he’s coming back from an injury. Sometimes he is missing his deep threat. I dont’ think there is just one reason for it all, otherwise it would be fixed via coaching.

    Either way, I’m sure it’s a fun exercise for the ones with insomnia. Myself, I just trust he’s an excellent QB, and it’s a team game.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    True

  • Mark

    Good points, however, the comments above reflect play on the field. Ben is talking about Bell being here when he’s pocketing $20 mln a year and Bell is playing on a franchise tag. Also, sending the team through the drama of retirement last year was unjust. Especially how the front office has stayed behind him after multiple issues of stupidity by him. The drama with Haley coming in as offensive coordinator and his inability to move on from soon to be fired Deep Ball Arians.

  • Dan

    The offensive line has been physically dominated in at least six road games since 2014.

  • Dan

    HINT: Because the entire offense plays worse on the road, not just him.

  • Dan

    The “pick-six” in Super Bowl XLV was the result of Chris Kemoeatu not being able to block for the 2.5 seconds necessary for Roethlisberger to throw a deep pass to a wide-open Mike Wallace down the left sideline. As a result, Roethlisberger was hit as he threw, which sent the ball in the wrong direction. And I’ve timed the play from snap to throw over and over again, and every time I’ve gotten 2.5 seconds, so no, he didn’t hold the ball too long on the play either. If anything, he did everything correctly before the snap and before the throw. He saw Nick Collins deep, so he pump-faked to the shallow left to draw Collins out of position and leave Wallace one-on-one down the sideline with no safety help. If Kemoeatu could just block for 2.5 seconds like every starting-caliber offensive lineman is supposed to, then we could be talking about a record-breaking 93-yard TD pass in the Super Bowl, instead of a “pick-six” to a safety whom Roethlisberger initially froze out of the play. If you disagree with this assessment, then take it up with Ron Jaworski, who broke down the play in vivid detail the day after the game.

  • Mark

    Agree, however, Mike was wide open before the pressure got to Ben.

  • Dan

    Nick Collins was defending deep on the left side of the field, so Mike Wallace might not have been as open as he looked if Roethlisberger didn’t freeze Collins first. And even with the pump-fake, Roethlisberger still attempted the pass 2.5 seconds after the snap, which is about as quick as it gets on a deep pass attempt. The setup was perfect. This was on Chris Kemoeatu not blocking for the standard 2.5 seconds that you expect from a starting-caliber offensive lineman.