When looking back over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2018 regular season, it’s impossible to talk about either their successes or their failures without placing the role that Ben Roethlisberger played in both of them into a broader context. While he set new franchise records for touchdowns, yards, attempts, and completions, he also tied a career-high in non-appendectomy seasons in interceptions, and many of them were extremely costly.
Roethlisberger finished his 15th season leading the NFL with 16 interceptions. He also lost two fumbles, making him responsible for 18 of the team’s 26 giveaways. Well, not quite 18 as not every interception was his fault, but the point is that his ball security played a major role in the Steelers’ lowest moments of the season.
After the game, he offered some reflection on this line of thinking, and on the season in general. “The first thing I do is look in the mirror and say I need to play better. I’ll always say it starts there”, he said. And while he set franchise records, he knows that he could do better. But he refuses to back down when it comes to the style of his play that he insists contributes to the turnovers.
“I only like to speak for myself. In turning the ball over, I’m a guy that’s gonna take chances”, he said. “I could probably not throw some of the passes that have gotten intercepted and take a sack or not force some balls here and there that end up being good plays, but it’s the way I play the game”.
While there is obviously some truth to what he says—the Steelers offense does produce big plays that it otherwise wouldn’t because of the chancey throws that he is willing to make most other quarterbacks might not attempt—I certainly believe he could protect the team’s possession of the ball better even within that context.
“And sometimes fluky things happen”, he added, pointing to last night’s pick six on a play where he thought the defense was offside, but no flag was thrown. “You think you have a free play. I never would have thrown it if I didn’t think we had a free play, so sometimes those things happen, but we’ve also had some big plays happen when things like that happen”.
Roethlisberger has seemingly become enamored with embracing the ‘gunslinger’ mentality more than ever in recent years, especially this season, openly talking about it in specific terms. The numbers bear that out of course, throwing for over 5000 yards and 34 touchdowns, but also with the 16 interceptions.
Since 2015, Roethlisberger has thrown 59 interceptions, with at least 13 in every season. He had just nine in 16 games the year before that when he threw 32 touchdowns.
It was at that time in 2014 that I thought Roethlisberger had found the height of his powers, but he has gotten more careless since then, and it’s hard to pinpoint why.