Ben Roethlisberger Needs To Work On Play-Action Passing

No matter how long you might have worked on something, there will always be things that you can work to improve within the scope of your interest. For the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, if there were one area in which I would wish he would work on, it would be in the selling and execution of the play-action passing game.

Put simply, it really doesn’t seem to be something that he is all that interest in doing in the first place. It is as though he would much rather simply drop back to pass without the decoy, and then we have on our hands something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you believe, for example, that the play-action pass serves little purpose, then you are more likely to put in minimal effort into selling the play-action pass. The less work you put into selling the play-action pass, the less believable it is going to be, and thus the better it will be defended.

So it wasn’t surprising to me when I came across a graphic from Pro Football Focus that compared and contrasted Roethlisberger’s numbers in the passing game while throwing from play action versus throwing without it.

According to their numbers, he had the seventh-best quarterback rating when not using play action at 98.7, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. His numbers dropped using play action, posting a quarterback rating of 76.1 and a completion percentage of 57.3, though his yards per attempt did increase to 8.4—not as high as you would expect.

Compare those numbers to Russell Wilson’s. His passer rating without play action was 83.9, completing 62 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt. With play action, he completed 73.6 percent of his passes for 9.5 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of 121.8. Those numbers are more representative of what play action is supposed to do for a passing game.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some actual numbers. For the season, I have Roethlisberger using play action on just 72 passing attempts, including plays that ended in sacks or penalties or scrambles. That is well below the average, so he doesn’t even like to use it frequently, let alone sell is properly.

By my count, he completed 35 of 63 passes, which is actually lower than their numbers. But frankly his poor sells could make it difficult to distinguish what actually constitutes a play-action pass, so it’s very possible the sample could be different.

Those 63 passes resulted in 569 yards of offense, which is a slightly healthier figure of a little over nine yards per pass attempt with play action. But he threw four interceptions using play action versus only three touchdowns.

I think it is safe to say that the play-action pass is something that Roethlisberger should want to work on. Whether you go by my figures or somebody else’s numbers, the offense didn’t perform up to expectations. He even managed to get sacked on one attempt.

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