Film Room: Ben Roethlisberger’s Brutal First Half

Let’s all get the obvious out of the way. Ben Roethlisberger played about as bad a half of football as he ever has in the first half of Monday’s loss (still hurts to write) against the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s hard to believe we were watching a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Things got better in the second half – though not significantly so – but Roethlisberger and the offense put themselves in too big of a hole from that terrible first half of play.

Ugly as it was, we’re breaking down his struggles in the first half against the Bengals.

It started on the first play of the game. Pittsburgh used plenty more pistol in this game than others. Presumably to accomplish two goals. Pair their downhill run action with their ability to use playaction off it as opposed to getting directly under center.

Here, they run playaction with a boot to the right. Roethlisberger looks for James Washington streaking down the right sideline. But like last week versus Buffalo, the pass is woefully underthrown and incomplete. Nearly picked off. Washington had a great release here and should’ve had a long catch, maybe even a touchdown, but the pass never gives him the chance.


His next throw. 3rd down shallow cross to Diontae Johnson. Just poor ball placement throwing behind him and I don’t think Roethlisberger was expecting Johnson to settle and sit down versus zone coverage. This is simply an inaccurate throw.

I’m no mechanics expert but check Roethlisberger’s front foot. The front foot and toe should be aligned with where you want the ball to go. Roethlisberger’s front foot is behind Johnson through the majority of his release, only getting cleared very late on his follow through. And so the pass is behind, off Johnson’s hands, and incomplete.

Johnson probably doesn’t pick up the first down if he catches it. I understand that. But you give your shifty receiver a chance to make someone miss. And it’s a lot better than a tipped pass that could’ve easily been picked.


Here’s the ugly third down completion/fumble to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bengals are playing Cover 1 Robber/Lurk with safety Vonn Bell coming down to rob any crossing pattern. Roethlisberger’s first option is Diontae Johnson on the left side. It’s covered so he progresses to Smith-Schuster on the shallow. The pass is accurate but he’s throwing into bracket coverage and gets Smith-Schuster killed. Blown up, fumbled, and the Bengals recover.

Sometimes, the “he missed a wide open receiver” game is armchair QB without understanding reads and progressions. But man, Roethlisberger should’ve hit Chase Claypool on the over route behind Smith-Schuster here. It’s in his field of vision and he sees the Bengals’ DB get pushed off by Claypool to trail Smith-Schuster.

This should’ve been a first down completion. Instead, it ends in a turnover. And there’s no obvious pressure on this play that forced a hurried throw. Just a poor read by Roethlisberger.


Pittsburgh tries to go playaction from under center with max protection. Only a two-man route with Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool. Switch/scissors route concept with Claypool on the post and Ebron on the flag (seven route).

The ESPN crew got on Roethlisberger for missing Claypool here. I actually don’t think it was that egregious of a mistake. Here’s the picture before Roethlisberger wound up to throw.

That single high safety sitting in the MOF makes the post read tough to make. In hindsight, considering how aggressive the FS was here driving on the corner, Roethlisberger probably could’ve/should’ve made the throw to Claypool. But I understand why he threw to Ebron based on the MOFC read.

But the throw itself is late and poor. Doesn’t drive the ball enough and put it to the sideline. Instead, the pass is a little late and hangs. Safety is able to drive on it while the underneath defenders are able to get depth and squeeze the pass.

Ebron takes a huge shot – Roethlisberger again putting his guys in harms way – and doesn’t return to the game due to a back injury.


RPO on this play. Power run paired with a slant to Chase Claypool. Roethlisberger’s had success throwing the slant on these, he’s hit Smith-Schuster once each of the last two weeks on this play, but the window has to be open and the ball has to come out quick.

Here, the mesh point with Snell is a little elongated which slows down the whole process. Issue with Roethlisberger pulling the ball out of Snell’s belly. More importantly, Roethlisberger is blind to the LB sitting in his hook zone. Throws right into his window and it should’ve been picked off by Germaine Pratt.

Even if we imagine the LB isn’t there, the throw looks behind and could’ve been picked by the CB. So it’s a bad read and an inaccurate throw all-in-one.


Finally, his end-of-half interception. Just another blind throw. Roethlisberger looking to hit Smith-Schuster on the dig. But the hook defender is sitting underneath and the ball is thrown right into Mackensie Alexander’s lap. Easiest pick he’ll have. Roethlisberger simply didn’t see him and it ends a drive that showed a tiny bit of promise. And put the Steelers scoreless heading into the half.


We could dissect two or three more plays from the half like Roethlisberger’s miss to Diontae Johnson on an over route. And then delve into the second half where the problems weren’t as egregious but still noticeable.

The issue in this game is that was Roethlisberger above the neck as anything physically related (though much of that was ugly, too). Roethlisberger made so many plays early in the year on their winning streak because he was a smart, decisive quarterback even if it was clear physically, he wasn’t where he once was. It’s hard to know if he’s pressing too much to make the perfect play or even prove he has the arm strength to fit the ball into windows it can’t. Like the rest of the offense, it’s hard to see how things get back on track with the offense having such a limited menu of success.

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