Pittsburgh Steelers Inept Offense Proving How Important Ben Roethlisberger Is

Nick DeWittAnalyst INovember 27, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 18 :  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers greets Mike Adams #76 during the game against the Baltimore Ravens on November 18, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

After falling to 6-5 on the season and in danger of dropping to .500 this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers—not to mention the rest of the NFL—have a new appreciation for just how important Ben Roethlisberger is to this franchise and its chances for success.

Quite simply, with Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers can win the Super Bowl. Without him, they can’t even beat bad teams.

I’ve written before about how the Steelers failed to invest in the backup quarterback position adequately for several years. They’ve instead relied on injury-prone veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. Until now, that hasn’t been a major problem.

Consider the two consecutive losses, one in a very winnable game against arch-rival Baltimore and the other against lowly Cleveland, as evidence that this is now a major problem.

Anything is possible in the NFL, but I have to believe that a Pittsburgh Steelers team with Ben Roethlisberger would currently be 8-3 and tied for first place in the AFC North.

How much does Pittsburgh miss their elite quarterback? Let’s have a look at how drastically the offense has changed since he went down.


Quarterback Statistics

Statistical comparisons are one indicator of performance, but not always a truthful or accurate one.

In this case, however, I think a statistical comparison has some merit. The same players, for the most part, have surrounded each quarterback on the team. Antonio Brown was out for awhile before Ben Roethlisberger was injured. The offensive line has been banged up all year. The supporting cast isn’t something I can see as a problem.

But let’s put the statistical line of Ben Roethlisberger up against the combined statistics of Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. I’ve averaged out their passer ratings to come up with my number.

Ben Roethlisberger:

209-316 (66 percent), 2,287 yards, 17 TD, 4 INT (100 QB rating)

Charlie Batch/Byron Leftwich:

45-87 (52 percent), 471 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT (47 QB rating) 

As you can see, the overall production is terrible from the combination of backups. But it’s hard to measure because Roethlisberger has more games to compile those statistics.

So here’s another look at Roethlisberger’s statistics for his two worst performances this season and the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs. That should give us a more clear comparison.

Ben Roethlisberger:

53-96 (55 percent), 549 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT (82 QB rating)

Charlie Batch/Byron Leftwich:

45-87 (52 percent), 471 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT (47 QB rating)

So, you can see that even at his worst, Roethlisberger has been head and shoulders above his backups. That’s a good indication of just how bad things have become for Pittsburgh’s offense in the past two and a half games.



Offensive Production

To call the Pittsburgh offense stagnant since the Roethlisberger injury would be an insult to the term. The Pittsburgh offense has been downright absent since the second half of the Kansas City game.

The Steelers could barely move the ball last week against the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland’s defense is better than what you’d expect from a team that is 3-8, but they aren’t the '85 Bears.

Charlie Batch couldn’t get into a rhythm at all; he continually over- or under-threw his receivers, especially tight end Heath Miller.

That Batch and Miller couldn’t hook up is significant because Miller and Roethlisberger have been one of the most deadly duos in the NFL this season. That alone shows how significant the drop-off has been from first- to third-string.


Running Game Struggles

How directly this relates to Ben Roethlisberger is a bit of a mystery, but a running game that was starting to thrive has been stuck back in reverse ever since the injury.

It hasn’t mattered which back has toted the load either; Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey have all struggled to move the needle.

One possible bit of explanation lies in the sheer fact that the passing game with the team’s two backup quarterbacks isn’t perceived as a major threat. Defenses are keying on the running game and Todd Haley has obliged by calling a run-heavy style.

Another possible problem is that Ben Roethlisberger is enough of a threat with his feet that teams must respect him as a potential runner.

Roethlisberger is also brilliant at play action, something his backups aren’t nearly as adept at. Since their fakes fool no one, teams are teeing off that any time it looks like a run, it will be a run. Steelers big plays—of which there have been only a few—have almost all come out of running formations. That’s a significant piece of evidence.


What’s Missing?

The bottom line is that something or several things are missing without Big Ben on the field.

First would be big plays. Neither Batch nor Leftwich have a big-game arm; Leftwich lacks accuracy and touch while Batch lacks strength and accuracy. Those deep bombs that Roethlisberger has been able to put in the air every so often to open things up are completely absent now.

Another version of missing big plays has to do with mobility. Neither Batch or Leftwich would be considered mobile; Leftwich is a statue and Batch is ancient. Neither guy is going to buy a lot of time with his feet. That’s the bread and butter of the Pittsburgh passing game at times, so it’s another huge loss.

The offense also lacks consistency. They’ve put together a few effective drives in each game only to follow them up with several incompetent performances. The Cleveland game was a microcosm of disaster. With Roethlisberger, this offense was experiencing its most consistent and productive output in years.

The play calling has completely altered as well. Todd Haley doesn’t seem to be able to get anything out of his backup quarterbacks. It’s a tough adjustment, but these guys are vets. They should know the system well enough to open up the whole play book. Going to a 1940s-style running offense isn’t the answer.

Perhaps the most noticeable and biggest drop is that the Steelers, the best team on third down with Ben Roethlisberger, can hardly convert third downs at all. That's a terrible thing to lose and it has really held back the offense.

In short, Todd Haley’s confidence is gone along with his starting quarterback.

With so many things missing, the Steelers have shown without a doubt that they must have their elite quarterback and MVP candidate to succeed. Anything else is simply a tragic disaster waiting to unfold.