Big Ben’s Bad Numbers Off Play-Action Were No Anomaly But Continuation Of A Trend

There are several statistical topics that I have covered recently that I would like at some point to be able to bring up more in depth at some point over the course of the next week or two—provided that I have the time and simply don’t forget about them.

There were a number of people commenting yesterday about an article that I wrote pertaining to Ben Roethlisberger and his performance using play-action passing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His numbers last season showed that he was a poor performer in this area in a manner that was far below the league average.

There were a lot of questions about the nuances and implications of this and I would like to try to address some of them, but I simply don’t have the access or resources to provide as complete and thorough an analysis as some might want.

I don’t, for example, have any hard numbers on how Roethlisberger performed off the play-action pass under Bruce Arians, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2012. I only have a general impression and anecdotes.

Lacking hard numbers, as mentioned, I do know that the team used play-action passing much more frequently prior to Todd Haley being brought in as offensive coordinator, and the fact that they have not used it much seems odd when you consider that it seemed to be in the plans initially.

As Dave Bryan wrote in an article after the warm-up preseason game of the 2013 season, “Roethlisberger is not just a good play-action quarterback; he’s one of the best in the league”. And the Steelers also used play-action more frequently than they have over the course of the past five seasons under Haley.

Again, I don’t have full data, but we covered even early in the 2013 season how the Steelers were using play-action far less often than the average, and that is a trend that has continued on since then, and we have the numbers for the past two seasons, at least.

I already gave the numbers that we put up for last season, but during the 2015 season, Roethlisberger completed 26 of 45 passes off of play action for 416 yards, throwing two touchdowns versus three interceptions. One of those incompletions resulted in pass interference for 38 yards, and two of them were dropped.

But those numbers are still not good, and similar to last season, with a completion percentage under 60. While the yards per attempt is obviously respectable, even considering the typical inflation off of play-action passes, he once again threw more interceptions than touchdowns using this tool.

It is, frankly, perplexing, as this was not an issue for Roethlisberger during the majority of his career, and largely seemed to have shifted under Haley, and perhaps with older age. He often seems as though he is uninterested in selling the play action, for example, which is a problem.

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