Big Ben’s Bad Trend: Did Steelers QB come back too soon again?

Roethlisberger wasn’t too hurt to play, but was he too hurt to play well?

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger is hurt a lot. To his credit, despite missing nearly a season of his career to injury, the man is — in sports parlance — a gamer. Roethlisberger hates missing time and will play whenever he can physically drag himself onto the field.

As evidenced, Sunday, that’s not always a good thing.

Cian Fahey, who covers the NFL for Football Outsiders, Football Guys and Bleacher Report was all over the Steelers on Sunday for starting Roethlisberger over Landry Jones, suggesting the backup could have done at least as good a job as the incumbent starter, especially if Roethlisberger was going to have the offense so incredibly out of sync for the first three quarters.

After the game, Roethlisberger took the blame for the loss, saying “It’s frustrating. Take nothing away from them. They’re a good defense, but we didn’t make plays. I didn’t make plays. I didn’t convert third downs. I turned the ball over. It’s frustrating, because I hold myself to higher standard than that.”

Everyone holds him to a higher standard than that, so it had to be something more than he was just rusty. Despite lumbering for a rushing touchdown on the team’s last drive, Ben cannot be healthy. Can he?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

“I feel fine, thanks for asking,” Roethlisberger deadpanned when asked about his knee following the touchdown run. “I’ve played through injuries before,” he said more seriously, “but we couldn’t get going as an offense. I just think I need to be better. I put it on myself.”

Roethlisberger has played through injuries before, and he’s played well while hurt in the past, too. Sometimes.

Let’s remember, he injured his AC joint in the wild card round of the playoffs last season, which needed an MRI, before outplaying Peyton Manning in the divisional round, completing 24-of-37 attempts for 339 yards, without Antonio Brown, in the loss to Denver.

So before we perpetuate the narrative that Ben is always bad when he’s hurt, we admit that he has been hurt more than he has been bad. Sometimes he’s even hurt and good.

But when Ben has been too hurt to play, he often rushes back more quickly than he should. Initial reports suggested Ben could have been out a 4-6 weeks with his current knee injury, and he missed one game. And a bye week. But one game.

YearGame DateOppResultCompAttPctYdsAvgTDIntSckRateFUMLost
201611/06@ BALL 14-21234551.12645.911267.320
201511/01CINL 10-16284562.22625.813357.8----
201212/09SDL 24-34224252.42856.831287.911
201101/01@ CLEW 13-9234057.52215.500273----
200912/06OAKL 24-2718247527811.6211123.3----
200609/18@ JACL 0-9173253.11414.402238.710
200511/28@ INDL 7-26172665.41335.112358.7----

Those are the games, including yesterday, that Ben played after coming back from missing time. The list does not include games where Ben returned from suspension or was rested before the postseason. It also does not include games where Ben played hurt but didn’t miss time between starts.

Wins and losses aside, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage in these games is entirely mediocre, save for the one game against Oakland in 2009, with eight touchdown passes (and one rushing score) to 10 interceptions.

Certainly Fahey wasn’t the only pundit to see the obvious issues with Roethlisberger on Sunday: Missed throws, poor decisions with the ball and a general sense that Ben rushed back when he wasn’t ready to play.

The Steelers QB was 7-for-14 for 50 yards in the first half against Baltimore, as Pittsburgh trailed 10-0, with just 66 net yards of offense before halftime. The third quarter was somehow worse, ending drives with a punt, interception, punt and, as the fourth quarter began, a blocked punt, amassing 10 yards – less five for penalty – on those four drives.

After Sunday’s loss, an obviously frustrated Mike Tomlin punted (pun) when asked if Ben was ready for the game, saying, “I’ll let him talk about that. He was healthy enough to play. He was willing to play. We made the decision. We don’t second-guess, we won’t look back at all. I appreciate his efforts and his display of will.”

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

That’s a far cry from what Tomlin said before the game, via, in making the decision to start Roethlisberger over Jones.

“There has to be capable-of-playing and there has to be a will-to-play. So the communication with [Ben] was a big element of it, and then you look at the quality of his play: how is he transferring his body weight in the pocket; how it is affecting his accuracy, both short and long; can he move in the pocket, both laterally and vertically; can he protect himself; how limited is he?

“Those all are questions that are a part of the equation, but Ben and I have been through this quite a bit over the years, so it’s a pretty fluid, uneventful process for us.”

It sure felt uneventful on Sunday. For all the wrong reasons.