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Author Topic: Not all BBR's fault  (Read 421 times)
Brinker
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« on: Feb 07, 2011 at 17:25 »

The case for Ben Roethlisberger as a big-game quarterback before Super Bowl XLV was very clear. The narrative is not that hard to follow, since it eventually boils down to his 10-2 playoff record and a pair of Super Bowl rings. His performance in wins over the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets this postseason merely added to his book of clutch wins. By leading a dramatic comeback over the Ravens and shutting up the Jets with a rushing touchdown in the second quarter and two key completions on Pittsburgh's final drive, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers reach Sunday's big game.



After losing to the Green Bay Packers, though, it's temporarily difficult to say that Roethlisberger finds a way to win when the game's on the line. He was clearly outplayed by his opposite number, throwing two picks and failing to lead his two-minute offense to the Packers' side of the field late in the game. That's not enough to tarnish his reputation, though, is it?



The truth is that it's not totally clear why Roethlisberger deserves such a reputation in the first place. A closer look at his play in big games suggests that Roethlisberger's actual performance isn't all that it's been purported to be.



Truthfully, Roethlisberger hasn't played very well in this year's playoffs. That incredible comeback against the Ravens came on the heels of a 17-point third quarter, in which the Steelers scored on three drives with 25 yards to go or less. (Their magic mysteriously vanished on the two drives that started inside their own territory during that quarter, which produced 26 yards and two punts.) He needed those two critical passes on the final drive against the Jets because his offense had totally shut down after producing 17 points in the first half, with an interception, a drive that produced 13 yards before a punt and a Roethlisberger fumble that resulted in a safety. He finished the day 10-of-19 for 133 yards with two picks. No matter how you slice it, that's not a good performance.

BEST AND WORST
SUPER BOWL XLV
DYAR is Football Outsiders' proprietary metric that measures performance on every play against expected performance for that situation. For a deeper explanation and a full breakdown of the numbers, visit Football Outsiders.

QB | RB | WR/TE
THE GOOD
Player Team DYAR
Aaron Rodgers GB 163
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 95
BEST AND WORST
SUPER BOWL XLV
DYAR is Football Outsiders' proprietary metric that measures performance on every play against expected performance for that situation. For a deeper explanation and a full breakdown of the numbers, visit Football Outsiders.

QB | RB | WR/TE
THE GOOD
Player Team DYAR
James Starks GB 17
Isaac Redman PIT 8
Mewelde Moore PIT 6

THE BAD
Player Team DYAR
Rashard Mendenhall PIT -7
BEST AND WORST
SUPER BOWL XLV
DYAR is Football Outsiders' proprietary metric that measures performance on every play against expected performance for that situation. For a deeper explanation and a full breakdown of the numbers, visit Football Outsiders.

QB | RB | WR/TE
THE GOOD
Player Team DYAR
Hines Ward PIT 39
Greg Jennings GB 35
Jordy Nelson GB 31
Antwaan Randle El PIT 27
Mike Wallace PIT 17
Donald Driver GB 11
James Jones GB 9

THE BAD
Player Team DYAR
Heath Miller PIT -19
Antonio Brown PIT -17
Brett Swain GB -11
Andrew Quarless GB -6
Emmanuel Sanders PIT -4
The other numbers don't look good under the light of day, either. One of those rings, of course, came during Roethlisberger's ugly day in Super Bowl XL, in which he was 9-of-21 for 123 yards with two interceptions. That's not leading your team to a ring; it's being dragged by the other 52 guys toward one. Among his wins are another ugly performance against the Jets (17-of-30 for 181 yards with two picks) and an abbreviated showing against the Chargers (17-of-26 for 181 yards with a touchdown and a 25-yard pooch punt).



There are two problems with the conventional wisdom here, and they're not new to readers of this column. One is that using win-loss records as a measure of player performance reduce them to "good" and "bad" games without any context. Would anyone say that Roethlisberger's performance against the Seattle Seahawks was as good as his truly impressive performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII? Of course not. By solely saying Roethlisberger produced two rings, though, we place equal value on his performances in those two games.

The second problem is that you can unfairly squeeze and expand "clutch performance" to mean whatever you want it to be. During the regular season, Matt Ryan had some clutch comeback victories that got him a reputation as one cool cucumber; because his defense totally collapsed in the playoffs, he was able to mostly retain that rep because he played poorly in a blowout, not a close game. Peyton Manning had an incredible performance in the AFC Championship Game last year (and would have been derided as unclutch had he not performed well), but got his old rep for failing in the big game back after a mediocre Super Bowl. Had Roethlisberger converted on that final drive for a game-winning touchdown, we would all be hearing the same stories about how Roethlisberger just comes up big when his team needs it the most. Meanwhile, we also would have forgotten about the two big overthrows of Mike Wallace earlier in the game because they weren't in as quite an important moment. It's insipid logic -- those plays happened in the Super Bowl! Of course they're important.



Let's take a reasonably fair look at how Roethlisberger performs in the clutch versus players of similar pedigrees and recent vintage. We'll use the simplest version of clutch imaginable, comparing Roethlisberger's performance in the playoffs to his regular-season numbers, using three simple but effective rate statistics: completion percentage, yards per attempt, and attempts per interception.

                      Regular Season                                              Playoffs                                Playoff Decline
Player Cmp % Y/Att Att/INT Cmp % Y/Att Att/INT Cmp % Y/Att Att/INT
Roethlisberger 63.1 8.0 32.6 61.2 7.8 23.1 3.0% 3.1% 29.2%
Tom Brady 63.6 7.4 45.7 62.2 6.5 45.7 2.2% 12.2% 6.8%
Brett Favre 62.0 7.1 30.3 60.8 7.4 30.3 1.9% -4.2% 12.9%
Manning 64.9 7.6 36.4 63.1 7.5 36.4 2.8% 1.3% 0%
Kurt Warner 65.5 8.0 31.8 66.5 8.6 31.8 -1.5% -7.5% -3.8%

Because they face tougher defenses, we know that quarterbacks should see their numbers decline in the playoffs. That's true of Roethlisberger, although it's mostly a slight decline. The exception is interception rate. Roethlisberger throws an interception once every 32.6 attempts during the regular season. In the playoffs, he throws a pick once every 23.1 attempts. That's 29.2 percent more frequently, or a difference of about seven interceptions over the course of a full season. If you compare Roethlisberger to those quarterbacks from his generation who won a Super Bowl and have 10 postseason starts, well, he's not all that impressive.



Compared to his regular-season numbers, Roethlisberger's performance in the playoffs isn't good. It's right in line with Tom Brady and Brett Favre, each of whom see their performance drop in one category or another. Manning actually retains more of his regular-season performance during the playoffs than any of the three, while -- incredibly -- Kurt Warner actually put up better numbers in the playoffs than he did during the regular season! Part of that is because most of Warner's playoff experience came as part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams teams at the beginning of the 21st century, but Warner is criminally underrated as far as late-game heroics go. He threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce on the only play of his final drive in Super Bowl XXXIV, produced a game-tying touchdown on his final drive in Super Bowl XXXVI, and then threw a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald to take the lead with 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII. (His final drive started on his own 11-yard line with 30 seconds to go.) He was let down by his defense in both of those losses.



None of this suggests that Roethlisberger is a subpar quarterback or that he isn't a player a team should feel comfortable employing in a big-game situation. He has plenty of good games to his credit, and he deserves plaudits for the big plays he has come up with in the past. But there's nothing about Roethlisberger's past that definitively proves anything about his ability to come through in the clutch -- that was already true before Sunday night.




Three Good Performances


1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Simply put, Roethlisberger was worse than his numbers indicated. Aaron Rodgers was better than his. While Roethlisberger left big plays on the field, Rodgers created big plays and had his receivers gently place them on the ground for him. Our numbers aren't weighted for why a pass fell incomplete, but it sure seems cruel to find fault with Rodgers on that would-be touchdown pass that James Jones dropped in the third quarter. Facing a pass defense that had been downright fantastic over the second half of the season, Rodgers played well and deserved even better. During one stretch in the first half, he went 11-of-12 for 133 yards, producing two first downs and two touchdowns. A dismal stretch in the second half -- two completions for a total of 15 yards on nine dropbacks -- came amid that sea of drops. He finished the game by producing seven completions for 110 yards in his final 10 dropbacks, although that came with two sacks and an incompletion on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line that would have sealed the game.



2. Hines Ward, Steelers
Ward played a huge role during the two-minute drill that got the Steelers back in the game, producing three catches and 39 yards on four targets. He converted a third-and-10 there before picking up another first down and then catching an 8-yard touchdown pass. Ward added another 15-yard catch and then closed out his line with a classic Ward reception -- fearlessly going over the middle -- for 15 more yards on second-and-18.



3. Greg Jennings, Packers
Three catches on seven targets isn't great, but those three receptions included two touchdowns and a 31-yard completion on third-and-10. That first touchdown pass to Jennings was a carbon copy of his early touchdown catch against the Steelers in their game last year. The Packers lined Jennings up in the slot as part of a trips formation (three wide receivers on one side) and had him run a seam route up the hashmarks. The play works because it gets Jennings matched up in coverage against an overmatched linebacker. In last year's game, Jennings caught the pass and bounced off safety Tyrone Carter (the replacement for an injured Troy Polamalu) for an 80-yard touchdown; this time, he narrowly escaped Ryan Clark to make the catch, and then held on through a brutal Polamalu hit for the touchdown.




Three Bad Performances


1. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
If you want to pick a point in which the game turned against the Steelers, it's hard to pick anything but Mendenhall's crucial fumble on the opening play of the fourth quarter. It came on a second-and-2 play from the Packers' 33-yard line with a four-point deficit; realistically, chances are that the Steelers convert and either end that drive down a point or with the lead. Instead, the next time they had possession, they were down 11 points and spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. It's a shame, too, because Mendenhall had been effective before that: His 13 previous carries had produced six successes, three first downs and a touchdown. The Steelers used a nice mix of draw plays to get Mendenhall some running room, and he was able to break tackles at the line of scrimmage to pick up additional yardage.



2. James Jones, Packers
It's hard to fault a guy when he catches five of the six passes thrown to him, but that one drop was brutal. On the play, Polamalu got caught between playing the ball and the defender, and if Jones catches the ball, he's off to the races. His impending free agency creates a difficult decision for Packers general manager Ted Thompson: He needs a receiver to replace Donald Driver, but is the error-prone Jones really a suitable replacement?



3. Heath Miller, Steelers
After a huge game against the Packers last year, Miller went missing for most of this one. You would normally attribute that to him chipping in as a blocker on Clay Matthews, but Matthews spent most of his time as a decoy in the pass rush, dropping back and spying Roethlisberger. Miller was instead simply a zero in the passing game, with two incompletions in the first half giving way to a completion for minus-3 yards in the third quarter. His only positive contribution ended up being a 15-yard completion to start the Steelers' final drive.




Three Stunning Performances


1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Roethlisberger was facing the league's best pass defense, but it wasn't the league's best pass defense by halftime: Charles Woodson was gone for good with a collarbone injury and Sam Shields was gimpy at best with a shoulder injury that prevented him from tackling. Roethlisberger just didn't capitalize on his chances. His eight dropbacks in the third quarter produced just a single first down. He was much better in the fourth quarter, completing passes on eight of his first nine dropbacks before throwing three incompletions to end the game as a contest; those throws produced 96 yards. Those are the sort of numbers you should be putting up against a defense with Patrick Lee at cornerback, Charlie Peprah at safety and the inimitable Jarrett Bush playing Woodson's role in the slot.


2. Mike Wallace, Steelers
Once and for all, Roethlisberger proved that you can overthrow Wallace. Their pitch-and-catch on Wallace's 25-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, though, was a thing of beauty. Roethlisberger made a great throw, but Wallace did an incredible job of creating separation at the line of scrimmage. Two steps into the play, he already had a yard on the defender and was even money to score. That's incredible, and if he can do that regularly next season, things will be scary for Steelers opponents.



3. James Starks, Packers
Because of Brandon Jackson's ability as a pass blocker, Starks' role in this game was relatively limited. Considering the quality of the run defense across from him, he had a pretty solid day: four first downs on 11 carries, including two short-yardage conversions. His biggest run of the day was 14 yards, and it was a perfect example of why he's not really a difference-maker in Green Bay: It came totally untouched, thanks to the success of the passing game. It was a big enough hole to the outside for Tito Jackson to break through, let alone Brandon.

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"He'll just smile and be cordial out there. Then he'll kill you."
--Aaron Smith, Defensive Lineman, on Troy Polamulu
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« Reply #1 on: Feb 07, 2011 at 21:17 »

Roethlisberger was terrible early. He's the reason we fell behind, and in my view he deserves most of the blame for the loss.

A lot of people point to Mendenhall, but he was a beast, and he was getting us back in the game. On his fumble, terrible blocking put two very good defenders in the backfield to meet him right after he got the ball. They attacked his midsection and the ball came out. Fumbles happen in football, and that scenario is one where a fumble would be hard to avoid, even if you're Jim Brown.

It's too bad we didn't crank up the running game more, as play-action, when we bothered to use it, created open receivers. Open receivers that Ben generally missed, but they were open all the same.

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leighclay
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« Reply #2 on: Feb 08, 2011 at 08:54 »

To Ben's credit, on the first INT, his arm was hit as he released and that caused the floater.  It was not his fault.
Even the Pack fans around us said so. And the commentators yesterday after the fact.

Not to bad mouth Mendenhall, cause the running game was working very well for us, but the fumble, to me, was the turning point.  His elbow was hit by Matthews' helmet pretty good, so I'm not gonna call him a goat like Peter King did.  I've been kicked in the elbow by a horse, and it's a pretty automatic reaction to let go of whatever it is you're holding onto.  Truthfully, I blame David Johnson for that one.  Whiffed on picking up Matthews.

But for that fumble, I believe we would have scored on that drive and never looked back.  Mo was with us, Hines was bouncing around as they changed ends, I just knew we were gonna win at that point.
Then the ball hit the ground.

Oh well....
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VaBchSteelersfan
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« Reply #3 on: Feb 08, 2011 at 14:56 »

well, he could have looked REALLY stupid if he went to Disney World.

http://cdn1.sbnation.com/imported_assets/650484/wtfcheese.jpg
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"Now that I'm here, I don't want to just be here, I want to be here for a long time." Hines Ward, 1998 4th round draft pick.
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