Big Ben Off To Better Start On Ball Security

My biggest concern about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger heading into the 2017 was whether or not he would exercise greater ball security on his passes than he had in each of the two previous seasons.

At the moment, there is too small a sample size to make any sort of meaningful determination, but he does have a single interception 71 pass attempts, which works out to an interception percentage of 1.4, quite near the lowest of his career.

It is one thing, however, to avoid throwing interceptions, and it is another to be fortunate. Last year, Roethlisberger was pretty fortunate that he did not have a higher interception total than the 13 he threw in 2016, as there were many others that could have resulted in turnovers, a ratio higher than the average.

For my own purposes, I have gone back over Roethlisberger’s throws this season to determine for myself which of his passes are ones that I would deem turnover-worthy. Aside from the interception that he threw during the season opener, I believe that he had two turnover-worthy throws on Sunday.

That gives him three turnover-worthy passes through the first two weeks of the season, and on 71 pass attempts, that equates to a turnover-worthy throw percentage of 4.2. Pro Football Focus also must have determined that the same three throws merited such distinction, as they gave him a 4.1 percent rating. The discrepancy is reflected in the fact that they for some reason include sacks in their numbers for total dropbacks rather than total throws.

Given how much I talked about it last season, and how much disagreement among different groups of people there was, I think it would be a good idea if this is something that I actually track and put on display, so I will be doing a quarterly breakdown of his passes that I felt were turnover-worthy for public scrutiny.

For a point of order, a turnover-worthy throw should be defined as one that, when it left the quarterback’s hand, could have given a reasonable effort from the defense resulted in an interception. A lot of these throws in question would consist of interceptions that were dropped.

I would not say that Roethlisberger has thrown any interceptions that have been dropped so far, but he did have one on a corner route that hit the outstretched defensive back’s hands. It would have been a good play, but it could reasonably have been expected that this play would have resulted in a turnover.

Shortly after that throw, he also threw a deep ball on which only the deep safety was anywhere near it. The defender had difficulty both backpedaling and locating the ball, but ended up at the end diving for the ball, which landed just out of his grasp.

Given that the quarterback just spent time talking about his priority in taking care of the ball, I thought it would be worthy of discussion.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Agreed. Ben was lucky to not have 20 last year.

  • PaeperCup

    On the flip side can we say Ben was unfortunate to not have 40 TDs?

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    No… hypothetical stats only work in one direction. Negative in the direction of the person you are referring to lol.

  • pittfan

    Ben’s accuracy, of lack thereof according some is a hot topic of debate. Putting some analysis and #s to it will generate much discussion. Therefore incompletions/drops due to “bad throws” would complete the picture.

  • pittfan

    What would that look at? Dropped TD opportunities?

  • RickM

    Yes, it depends on what you want to chart. If you decide to chart poorly run routes that lead to INT’s, dropped passes, hurried incompletions, dropped TD’s etc. you will make his stats look better. If you focus on balls that possibly could have been INT’s, you will make his stats look worse.

    I have said before that Roethlisberger has brain cramps and makes some bad throws. All of us know that. Charting his subjective, hypothetical INT’s without taking into account pressure, receiver errors, great D plays, etc? It’s negative-agenda driven and low class. I guess it’s his retirement present. His stats line here will now will be TD’s, INT’s and passes that hypothetically could have intercepted. I wonder if there will be hypothetical stats kept for any other player? Let me guess, no.

  • Jones

    Agreed. I respect that some will disagree, but IMO, it’s an unproductive use of time to criticize and fret over what “might have gone wrong”. If Ben’s INTs jump up significantly, then you diagnose what’s wrong with his play and help him make the adjustments. If they don’t chalk the few “almost INTs” up to a bad play or so that everyone will have occasionally.

  • Alan Tman

    See this what gets me. Ben blames the receivers for his interceptions and no one says a word. If that was anyone else blaming others there would be a firestorm. If Bell blamed Ben for bad passes. It would be all over the Internet. What kind of leader does that, and tried to stir up something about Harrison not playing too. It’s simple if they want Chickillo back he has to play.

  • colingrant

    This is the best assembly of offensive talent of his career. His experience and offensive support system hopefully has him in a place where he feels he doesn’t have to be extraordinary to produce extraordinary results. Accuracy, patience and smarts will go a long way with this team.

  • RickM

    There are already so many variables that go into any INT that is successfully made. If a QB is heavily pressured and throws an INT, it goes on his stats line without any asterisk that the O-Line didn’t do it’s job. If a receiver runs a bad route and it leads to an INT, again no asterisk, it’s on the QB. If the receiver should have caught the ball but didn’t, and it deflects into an INT – again, it goes on the QB stat line without explanation. I’m O.K with all of that. Yes there were bad breaks and reasons for the QB on some of his INT’s, but that’s football. They still count against him as the passer.

    To now add a ‘well it could have been intercepted’ stat – again without the context of pressure, poor receiver routes, deflections, etc. – well it’s just a cheap shot stat at any QB.

  • Alan Tman

    You don’t have to chart all that. He said yesterday he throws interceptions because he’s trying to keep his receivers happy. So in practice the bad throws are because he wants to see if the receivers can go get them, and in the game it’s because he’s trying to keep the receivers happy. That means it’s never his fault. Lol

  • pittfan

    lol. just no pleasin some..

  • RickM

    I’m a guy who called Ben’s first half “terrible” the other day. I’ve said fans should realize he is simply not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, never has been, never will be. I’ve said his RZ play has to be improved and he’s inconsistent. So I will never chair his fan club.

    But I like and always hope for fairness in criticism. And charting balls that “could have been intercepted” doesn’t qualify. Roethlisberger will always throw into tighter windows than most QB’s, and that nets him some big plays. But it also risks him more INT’s.

    My overall problem with this is that I think veteran football players build up equity over time through their contributions. That equity shouldn’t protect them from criticism, but it should protect them from pettiness. Not Roethlisberger though. His big mouth, his B.S. and assorted other non-football things have been mentioned over the last two days. Now we even have the website charting hypothetical passes that could have been intercepted. They weren’t which is all that matters, but they’re going to be logged anyways. Brady wouldn’t deserve it, Rodgers wouldn’t deserve it, but it’s a whole different story for Ben. I knew the trolls were that way, but didn’t expect a writer to be. I trust this ‘it could have happened stat’ will be used for every QB that follows Ben. But somehow I doubt it. That’s it for me on the topic. Enjoy the game.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Sure, he’s had touchdown-worthy throws because that didn’t end up as touchdowns. This isn’t meant as a hit piece or anything. Roethlisberger is obviously a great player.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Roethlisberger’s should-have-been interceptions last season ranked among the worst in the league. The more should-have-been interceptions you throw, the greater the odds that in the future you will throw more interceptions.

  • Matthew Marczi

    So are you suggesting that my study is going to be driven by a negative agenda and low-class?

  • pittfan

    I think Matthew has been clear this is not intended to be a hit piece, and frankly part of his job is to generate discussion. I’m sure this “stat”, (if it qualifies as that) will accomplish the latter. I think we’ll both have healthy grains of salt handy. If you’re going to do hypothetical ints, it stands to reason you would do hypothetical completions and touchdowns. Right? We could create a whole new statistical category called “what could have been”. I agree with you that there is a lot of Ben hating that gets expressed in columns where his passing is the topic. I dismiss it when I think it’s unfair.
    Steelers by 9 btw. Enjoy👍

  • RickM

    If you were to do a study of “passes that could have been completed against Joe Haden, but weren’t”, my response would be the same. It’s not fair to the player. Haden is already statistically charged with every completion that goes against him, even when he has excellent coverage. It’s a pass completion against him and he gets no benefit of the doubt. That’s fine, charge every legitimate completion against him. But don’t start adding to his statistics “passes that could have been caught”. That’s just targeting him to make him look bad.

    There’s no difference with Roethlisberger. He’s charged with every incompletion and every INT. Now you’ve decided that you will add negative plays “that could have happened but didn’t”. I don’t care who the player is, they deserve to be judged statistically by what happened on the field, not by what didn’t. As for it being low-class, when you target one player for negative hypotheticals to the exclusion of other players, that’s what it is.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He is being judged by what happened on the field. Namely, he threw a pass that by all rights deserved to be intercepted. How about you wait until you actually see what I write until you come out with this? Honestly your reaction kind of pisses me off. How long have you been following this site, and my articles? Have I ever been unfair? Have I ever shown personal biases against players? How many articles have I written defending Roethlisberger’s character or touting his leadership or performance? This is not a formal statistic or anything, and each play is going to be looked at to see what happened.

    By the way, judging cornerbacks based on plays where they should have given up a reception but didn’t only because of an egregiously bad pass or a dropped pass is totally fair. It’s part of evaluating his total body of work. Blown coverages when he wasn’t targeted is fair. They’re still mistakes whether it ended up hurting the team or not.

  • RickM

    Re-reading your last paragraph, I agree it is likely fair. But you have not subjected any of these CB’s to weekly and seasonal logs of their negative hypotheticals. I guess I’m wondering why, if you’re getting into that area.

    You have definitely been objective and fair IMO, and I have appreciated your follow-up opinions even when I don’t agree with them which has been seldom actually. The issue here is that you opened a dialogue months ago about the number of passes that could have been intercepted by him, stating 2016 was not a good year for him and it became a rallying point for some fans. I get where you sourced that from, but you are not dumb. You know that some of those passes were on him completely (I have referred to them as brain cramps), and some were not. You also know that some actual INT’s are on him and some are not. But you lumped everything together as an indication that he had a bad year and ‘fed’ certain people. And now you’re following the same path. After two games he has 3 passes that could have been INT’ed in your view and at the end of season he’ll have over 20. And the guys who criticize him for waking up in the morning will love the stat and no doubt reference it throughout the year.

    Why does that matter? I’ve explained it above. It’s a bad habit I have. I believe in underlying fairness, and maybe moreso with a QB nearing the end who can still get us to the SB. If he throws 2 picks on Sunday and you mention there could have been 3 more, I would expect that to be mentioned. It should be. Should those 3 be added to a weekly log of INT’s that also could have happened? I don’t see any purpose other than to single him out for weekly/yearly criticism (e.g. yes he only had 10 picks on the season, but 20 more should have been picked). And when you are not subjecting other players to similar negative hypotheticals, it seems off-base. But that’s just me.

    I’ll wrap it up by saying ‘thank you’ for all the articles, your opinions, etc. I’m heading elsewhere in terms of commentary because the Roethlisberger thing has become too personal to me (and I know that). I want him to be subject to the same criticism as every other player, but standards are applied to him that are not applied to anyone else. Other leaders on the team can make any statement they want without criticism, Roethlisberger opens his mouth and some fans go ballistic. Now, we have negative “hypothetical statistical logs” applied to Ben and no one else. Your article is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. We now have someone whom I actually respect generating additional hypothetical negatives. It really isn’t about Ben Roethlisberger personally, strange as that sounds. I don’t know him and never will. I just think a future HOF’er deserves criticism consistent with other players, and negative hypotheticals about him only doesn’t meet that standard. Thanks again for all the other insights. The last word is absolutely yours.

  • RickM

    I am trying to figure out how to say something, but that’s usually a sign to go with my heart not head. I want to apologize for the way I treated you last week. I can’t make any excuse for it; I was ignorant plain and simple. I see some people insulting you today and I’m embarrassed that I did the same last week. It’s a learning lesson for me, but one that I should never have needed.

    Anyways, I am sorry. I’m going to continue my deserved hiatus from the SD comment section for a while. But as always, I’ll continue to follow the great content that you and others provide. You’ve had a very busy day and a half. Congrats for navigating through it so well.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Hey Rick, no worries. As far as I’m concerned you are a mainstay on this site and you should stay that way. I’m sure that your comments were fueled by the frequent undue criticism that he receives. Unfortunately he’s a very polarizing player. He can do no right for some, while for others it’s the opposite. It’s hard to find a middle-ground opinion, and even then sometimes those are taken to be one or the other.

    The past few days have certainly been adventurous, but the truth is it’s not like I’m required to respond to people. I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it or because I think that I can contribute, to educate people where sought or where necessary, and, hell, I’d be full of it if I didn’t acknowledge that I’ve learned plenty of things from people here as well.

    Not everybody is easy to deal with, that’s for sure, and no doubt I’ve made the decision to hold my tongue a few times the past couple of days. I think the next couple of weeks are going to be interesting around here, but I can handle it.

    What you said means a lot coming from you, by the way. Like I said, you are a mainstay here, and maybe the person that I’ve even interacted with most. While we mostly agree, we haven’t always, and when we don’t, we get past it.

  • RickM

    Thanks Matthew. Much appreciated.