Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ben is being Ben, but the Steelers' playoff odds are at 0.5%. What's going on?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In our highly unacclaimed Steelers season preview, we said the key to the season was that Ben needed to be more than Ben.  The unanswered but obviously impending question was: what is Ben capable of if the defense slips?  Now we have our answer: about the same as Ben is capable of when the defense is great.  In other words, Ben is being Ben.

First double finger point to 'Tonio; Next double finger point to the Lord.
Here are the Steelers' offensive and defensive ratings over the course of Roethlisberger's career:

This season, the defense has fallen to 12th (15th in scoring).  The offense, on the other hand, is basically the same as it has always been ... 16th in yardage (19th in scoring).  The difference, of course, is that the Steelers are 5-8 and on the verge of the first losing season of Roethlisberger's career.

Find out what's going on after the jump...

None of this is to say that the Steelers' 5-8 record is all Ben's fault or the offense's fault.  Ben has been the team's best, most reliable, and most-willing-to-take-blame player this season.  (Ryan Clark with a late push in the latter category Sunday: "That's on us as a defense.").  Plus the offense has put up better point totals over the past 6 games after a very slow start.  But the NFL has entered the era where, unless you have a truly sensational defense, your offense can't simply be neutral.

As impressive as the Steelers' three touchdown drives were Sunday, they were sandwiched between 8 drives of utter futility.  Historically, drive charts like this have been OK because there are 21 points on there (not to mention 7 more by the defense).  But in 2013, when teams like the Vikings can average over 24 points per game, it's just not enough.

This season especially, Ben is asked to do a lot, perhaps more than any quarterback can really be expected to do behind a bad offensive line and throwing to Young Dropsy.  But over the course of his career, he's actually been required to do less than a lot of other big time QBs.  For simplicity's sake, lets split his career starts into two categories.

CATEGORY A: Games when the opponent scores fewer than 20 points

Ben and Joe Flacco are the only QBs (out of similarly tenured QB's not named Matt Hasselbeck or Mike Vick) whose defense has given up fewer than 20 points in more than half of their starts.

Obviously, this has a huge impact on his career record:  To this point, on average, if Ben put up exactly 20 points in every game during a season, the Steelers would go 9-7.  If Peyton Manning put up exactly 20 points in every game, his team would go 6-10.

Ben's record when the Steelers allow fewer than 20 points is excellent:

CATEGORY B: Games where opponent scores 20 points or more 

But his record gets a little dicier, as does everyone's, when the Steelers defense gives up 20 or more points.

Basically, all of this build up is for a rather simple and obvious conclusion:

Ben being Ben is great, so long as more games are in Category A, where the defense is giving up fewer than 20 points.  But as more and more games move into Category B, where the defense is giving up 20 points or more, Ben being Ben may still be equally great ... it just might not be great enough anymore to get to the playoffs, where Ben can really be Ben.


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