The Pittsburgh Steelers gutted out the win against the Chicago Bears Monday night, winning the game 29-27 on a game-winning field goal by Chris Boswell. Ben Roethlisberger led the offense down the field with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, moving the ball effectively to get Boswell in range for the game-winning score. Roethlisberger finished the game 21/30 (70%) for 205 yards (6.83 YPA) and two TDs and zero INTs with a passer rating of 111.1. While his passer rating and completion percentage ranked the second highest of the season against Chicago and he tied his season high of two passing TDs Monday night, Roethlisberger struggled to connect on several throws that should be considered completable which has become a growing trend this season.
Roethlisberger’s first bad read of the game came on his first pass attempt. As Alex Kozora pointed out earlier in a recent post, the CB at the top of the screen plays a 5 trap, pressing #88 Pat Freiermuth at the LOS before flipping his hips to turn back to the ball Ben throws to #11 Chase Claypool. The defensive back nearly undercuts the route for the pick, but the ball thankfully falls incomplete. In hindsight, Ben probably thinks that the CB is going to run with Freiermuth up the sideline, however, the defender is already facing Ben as he throws the ball, playing shallow enough to break on the pass and almost come down with the turnover.
On this next incompletion, Ben is looking for Freiermuth over the middle of the field. Ben throws the football clearly behind Freiermuth as he breaks at the top of his route on an in-breaking route, but recognizes the ball is behind him and attempts to stop and turn back to the ball, unable to corral it with his right arm. This play looks like a clear miscommunication by the QB and TE as Ben looks to be throwing a simple curl concept back to the ball whereas Freiermuth hesitates for a split second at the top of his route before breaking more to the inside of the field. Regardless of who is at fault on this play, an easy short completion is missed here.
Here in the red zone on the drive that ultimately caps off in Pat Freiermuth’s first TD of the game, Roethlisberger misses two separate throws prior to the scoring play. The first is this incompletion to Chase Claypool on the slant pattern at the bottom on your screen. Claypool does a good job setting up #22 Kindle Vildor with a jab step outside before breaking back inside, getting a couple yards of separation. However, if you slow down and pause the play, you notice Ben hesitate and pump fake the ball as Claypool initially breaks open, giving Vildor time to recover and for the pressure to get into Ben’s face, causing Ben to throw late and the pass to fall incomplete.
Shortly after the incompletion to Claypool, we see Ben throw another pass incomplete through the back of the end zone. He initially looks toward #22 Najee Harris out of the backfield to the right, but then locks his eyes onto Freiermuth who is covered up. Meanwhile, #18 Diontae Johnson runs the drag across the goal line, getting a step on #58 Roquan Smith attempting to catch up. It’s a difficult throw, given Ben’s physical limitations to put the ball on Johnson while avoiding Smith to potentially undercut the route, but likely the best option in this scenario. Still, happy that Ben was able to live another down to complete the scoring drive.
This ended up being Ben’s long completion of the night on the deep 42-yard pass to #13 James Washington, but watching the play live, it appeared as if Ben didn’t do Washington any favors on the throw. When you watch the play, you see Washington immediately break open in the secondary as ben loads up and uncorks it downfield. However, the ball gets far more arc than velocity, traveling nearly 48 yards in the air, but well-short of hitting Washington in-stride who must stop and come back for the completion. Again, this is likely on Ben not having the same arm strength and velocity he once historically had, as a ball thrown more to the right sideline likely would’ve resulted in a long TD.
On this next incompletion, we watch as Ben starts to scramble up in the pocket as he starts to see green grass open in front of him. However, after a defender commits to him on the scramble, he fires the ball toward James Washington who blanketed in coverage for the incompletion on the left hash. The DB clearly had Washington covered, being in-front of the receiver and in position to make a play on the ball. Luckily, the ball was just far enough outside that the DB could only get a hand on it instead of making a play and taking it back the other way.
One of Ben Roethlisberger’s tendencies the last few games has been to airmail balls over his intended target at times, lacking the necessary touch to put the ball on his receiver on-target. That problem resurfaces here on this incomplete pass to Diontae Johnson as Ben drops back to pass in a relatively clean pocket and puts the ball high and behind Johnson breaking to the sideline. The deep out route is well-known to be one of the most difficult throws in football, but Ben has made this throw numerous times throughout his career. Missing Johnson on a fairly easy completion has to frustrate the players, coaching staff, and yinz alike.
This last “missed throw” is quite laughable knowing Ben’s tendency to pump fake the ball, having the hand size and grip strength to hold onto that sucker as he brings it down. Apparently when the velocity and arm strength go, the grip strength goes as well coming from a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Ben attempts to throw the ball toward the left sideline, but the ball leaves his hand for the ugly incompletion, almost looking as if he can’t decide to let it fly or bring it back in. The ball falls to the ground and the defense picks it up hoping the play would result in a fumble.
I am not in any way trying to take away from what Ben did do well in this game. He was successful in moving the ball down the field on the game-winning drive and had the poise and trust to put the ball on his receivers like Freiermuth and Claypool in contested catch situations. However, much like Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora, as well as other members of Steelers Depot have referenced throughout the season, it is evident that Roethlisberger has seen noticeable regression both physically as a passer as well as in his ability to make throws over the middle of the field or in the timing routes with his receivers.
This could be an issue in trusting his physical capabilities at this point, or just a matter of not reading the defense correctly and choosing to lock onto a receiver. His completion percentage on throws 20+ yards ranked second-worst in the league heading into Monday night’s game behind only Lions QB Jared Goff and still struggles to attack the middle of the field, favoring more of the short dink-and-dunk passing game that became infamous in 2020. Pittsburgh has made it to a 5-3 record, but when watching the regression in play in Roethlisberger, I would say that the team is winning in spite of him and his deficiencies rather than because of him elevating the team.
Roethlisberger will forever be remembered as a franchise QB in Pittsburgh and the man who led the charge on two Super Bowl winning seasons and reaching a third as a likely Hall of Fame lock. However, Father Time comes for all, as we have seen the drop off with Peyton and Eli Manning in recent memory. Ben appears to be nearly the end, and while he still has the experience needed to help Pittsburgh win games, his recent inefficiencies as a passer and the lack of mobility make it extremely difficult for Pittsburgh to win games if the running game isn’t going and the defense doesn’t play lights out. Ben can still win games, but let’s hope Pittsburgh doesn’t get into a shootout.
What are your thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger’s performance against the Chicago Bears? Do you think that the criticism in his play is warranted, or that he is playing far better than most recognize? Does Ben have enough left to win games as the focal point of the offense should the running game fail to get going? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!