Ben Roethlisberger has been the MVP of the Pittsburgh Steelers through the team’s first six games and is a big reason why this team is 3-3 instead of 1-5 or an equally poor mark. He has at times been the lone bright spot for Pittsburgh and has lead an offense that is opening eyes everywhere.
Let’s have a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s form through the first six games of this season.
It would be remiss to discuss Roethlisberger’s work this season without highlighting some of the improvements that he’s made to his overall game. You can see the hand of Todd Haley at work here, I think.
One of the longtime complaints about Roethlisberger expressed by virtually everyone was that he’d hang on to the ball for too long, take an unnecessary sack and kill off a promising drive in the process. He’s received some excellent pass blocking this year with only a few exceptions, but he’s helped himself by taking a different approach.
Part of the change is due to an offensive scheme that prizes quick decisions and using the entire field and all of the receiver options. Part of it is simply a conscious approach that the ball must come out faster.
Another improvement has been in overall awareness. Roethlisberger is making better reads. That is evidenced by only three interceptions on the season. Granted, all three were poor choices, but to have only three interceptions through six games given the number of passes thrown is quite the accomplishment in itself.
Roethlisberger is having an MVP-caliber year. He’s one of the top passers in the NFL and has basically kept the Steelers afloat without a rushing attack or a consistent defense. That’s a major accomplishment too, but his game has some strengths.
We’ve already highlighted the lack of mistakes. That’s perhaps the biggest strength when you look at overall results, but not the best thing Roethlisberger has been able to do.
He’s stayed in the pocket more this year, so we haven’t seen a ton of those mad scrambles with last-second passes. There have been some, but not like we saw previously. He’s been mechanically sound this season, and it shows on his throws. They’ve been, on the whole, more accurate and thrown with more authority. I can’t think of a Roethlisberger pass this season that has been a lame duck.
Beyond the mechanics, which is another improvement that shouldn’t be overlooked, he’s also been extremely good at converting third downs. The Steelers are at the top of the league in conversion percentage, something that was not the case in previous years. Roethlisberger has found ways to utilize Heath Miller here.
Another element of his game that has made the Pittsburgh offense positively deadly is that he has spread around the ball. Every receiver, running back and tight end gets involved in every game. We’ve even seen fullback Will Johnson get some looks through the air.
The biggest strength I can mention, however, is the accuracy. On almost every throw, the ball is where it needs to be. Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger had at least one sure touchdown dropped by a receiver.
The final strength I’ll mention is his ability to convert in the red zone. This hasn’t been perfect, and we’ll touch on this in the next segment as well, but overall, the Steelers have found success in enemy territory because their quarterback has been able to create. That’s always been a Roethlisberger hallmark, but this year it is really paying off.
Areas of Opportunity
With all of the strengths, it’s hard to pick too much at Roethlisberger’s game, but there are some areas for improvement as the season enters the second half. Here’s a look at those.
The first, and perhaps biggest, area that needs improving is one that has not previously been a problem. The Steelers' offense gets bogged down at the end of a close game, particular in a situation where they can win the game with a scoring drive.
The problem isn’t always Roethlisberger, although he’s thrown an interception that sealed the loss in Denver and fallen apart on the final drive in Tennessee. He hasn’t been nearly as good in these situations, but he hasn’t been terrible, really. This is just an area that gets a lot of scrutiny because of its importance.
As the season goes on, the Steelers will likely face a problem. They will have to either get the running game on track like they did against the Bengals or find a way to make the passing game even more unpredictable. That may involve allowing Roethlisberger to go back to leaving the pocket regularly to make throws.
That brings up an area of opportunity as well. Roethlisberger is deadly accurate on the run, but his passes lose some zip. He doesn’t throw an accurate deep ball unless his feet are set. That said, I think the best thing to do would be to get him used to finding a clean enough spot of field where he can set his feet to throw. When he leaves the pocket, receivers come open simply because extra defenders come up to prevent him from taking off.
These are small areas that need tweaking, but in a season that has been among his finest, it’s not easy to pick apart the tiny mistakes and make more out of them than isolated incidents that haven’t really been repeated more than once or twice.
I would say that Roethlisberger is operating at a better efficiency than he has in recent years and that he deserves nothing less than an A+ for his work this season. I’d give him the highest marks in his accuracy and his ability to spread out the ball for maximum effect. He’s also kept the offense elite despite playing without the rushing attack for most of the year.