Ben Roethlisberger is being ripped down and torn apart this week after a career-high five interception game. The Pittsburgh Steelers gun slinger hinted at retirement before the off-season, and all of that talk immediately got brought back up after such a poor performance that featured two game-changing interceptions. However, in looking back at the performance and examining the play of Roethlisberger, a lot of this has to be credited to the defense. Add in a couple of bad breaks, and the performance is not as disheartening as some will tell you.
Rationalizing Ben Roethlisberger’s Five Interception Game
Roethlisberger is targeting his tight end, Vance McDonald. There are two ways to think about this pass. One is that McDonald has not caught a pass all season, and Jalen Ramsey, a top-five cornerback in the NFL is in the vicinity. It sounds like more bad can happen than good. The other way to look at it is that McDonald is open. The pressure was coming up the middle and Roethlisberger saw McDonald had a step to the inside and he made the quick decision to give the open man a shot.
You can see that Roethlisberger is leading his target, his target still has a step, and is going to have space to work in if the ball gets to him.
That is when you remember what kind of caliber athlete that Ramsey is. A player who was a safety/cornerback athlete who tore up the combine made an incredible play that features full-out extension at full speed while hauling in a pass in a position that most wide receivers could not catch. Maybe Roethlisberger should not have trusted the matchup, and the result agrees, but in the time and space, it could have only taken one player in Ramsey to turn that ball over.
His second interception was the first game-changing pick six. However, this one can be chalked up to a deflection, and again some of the blame can be taken off of him.
Roethlisberger is looking for Antonio Brown here. As you can see, as he is set to throw he is dealing from a clean pocket.
As Roethlisberger is set to release the ball, he is making the right decision. Brown, the best receiver in the NFL, is about to break in on a post route into a portion of the field with a gaping amount of space, as highlighted above. The safety will break on the ball, but Brown will have inside traction, and a decent throw should turn into a big play.
However, as his delivery is done and the ball is coming out of his hands, you can see that defensive tackle Abry Jones is able to clear space between himself and guard Ramon Foster and get his arm in the air.
So a pass that looked on target and on line to be in between the safety above and the linebacker below gets deflected and bounces to the defenders arm and spirals far to the left, where Telvin Smith is. You can see how off of line the deflection that Roethlisberger could not control is.
The third interception is going to come down on Roethlisberger. It is tough to excuse this one. The decision was not great, but the throw was terrible. With Ramsey running just a touch behind Brown, Roethlisberger threw the ball high and behind Brown. This gave Ramsey a free chance to make a play on the ball, and he tipped it right into the arms of Barry Church. This is an inexcusable poor play by Roethlisberger.
On his fourth interception, he is targeting JuJu Smith-Schuster. As you can see below, Smith-Schuster is running up the seam. He has a step on his defender, and Roethlisberger has plenty of room to get him the ball before worrying about the safety.
Of course, little does Roethlisberger know that the safety does not even need to make a play on the ball. Smith-Schuster falls, and it leaves Roethlisberger throwing a bullet into a window that nobody is in. This is bad luck more than egregious throw or error.
When watching his fifth interception live it looked like the worst pass of the day. A prayer thrown into double coverage is far too short and results in an easy interception. However, if you look closely, Dante Fowler is able to beat Alejandro Villanueva and get his right hand on the shoulder of Roethlisberger as he lets this pass go.
This was not a bad decision when Roethlisberger wound up. Tashaun Gipson is preoccupied with Smith-Schuster and Brown is one-on-one down the field. A strong pass to the end zone gives the best receiver in the NFL a fighting chance in a decent matchup.
However, as you can see below this is anything but a strong pass. His arm is clearly hit, and the ball sputters out and falls about ten yards short of the intended target and off-mark.
None of this is to say that Roethlisberger had a good game. It was still below average. However, this game was not the game to bring out the shovels and begin digging a grave for Roethlisberger. Five interceptions are not the result of Roethlisberger mentally checking out or being too weak physically to make passes. It was a result of good defense, and some bad luck.
This is why looking at stats to tell a full story in football is such a bad idea. There are so many various moving parts that have to come together just for one play to happen, let alone a string of plays. Roethlisberger will be in a bounce-back spot on Sunday against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. We will see if he is able to shrug off this nightmare and get back to playing his strong style of football.