Ben Roethlisberger Continues Thriving Off-Script

Ben Roethlisberger

For the second straight week, Ben Roethlisberger played poorly in the first half. Against the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers went into halftime trailing. In the second half of each game, Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense flipped the switch and led comebacks of ten points. A common denominator of the comebacks was Roethlisberger going off-script and seemingly calling the team’s offensive plays. Likewise, the team was most effective in empty personnel.

Ben Roethlisberger Leading the Charge

In the second half of the Cowboys game, the Steelers offense spent most of their time in empty personnel. Eric Ebron played 86% of offensive snaps, his second-highest mark this season. Chase ClaypoolJuJu Smith-Schuster, and Diontae Johnson each played more than 50 snaps, as they were stapled in the empty formation. They were joined by either James Washington or Ray-Ray McCloud, usually McCloud. Running back James Conner played under 50% of snaps in a game in which he was healthy for the first time this season. It is worth noting the personnel grouping because it aligns with when the Steelers offense was at its most effective.

Before ending the first half strong, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense were not very effective against the Cowboys. That changed in the second half when the team ran empty personnel on a majority of plays. Roethlisberger’s stats in the second half of the game were eye-popping. He completed 14 of 21 passing attempts for 193 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the fourth quarter. Further, he completed two out of three third down passes for 27 yards. His connection with Smith-Schuster was especially important on third downs. Those two continue to work their magic together in clutch situations, including their touchdown connection on the first play of the third quarter.

The Other Side of the Equation

While it’s great that Ben Roethlisberger has worked wonders in the second half of consecutive games, there’s a problem that accompanies his performances. In each of the games, Roethlisberger did not play very well in the first half, and the argument could be made that he was a big reason the team trailed by two scores in the first place. The blame definitely doesn’t fall solely on Roethlisberger. As a whole, the offense was bad in the first half of each game. Blame needs to fall on the coaching staff. For back to back weeks, the Steelers offense has struggled during their scripted offensive drives.

It’s comforting for Steelers fans to have a quarterback that can lead the charge, but the offensive play-calling has been a concern early in games. The scripted drives absolutely need to be better, as does Roethlisberger himself in the first half. Pittsburgh has been putting themselves in bad situations, where Roethlisberger needs to be almost perfect in the second half just to win the game. This strategy won’t lead to sustained success. It’s great to see Roethlisberger work his magic in the second halves of games. But eventually, his magic will run out. Instead of putting the entire game on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, it would be more dependable for the offense to be more consistent throughout the game. Coming back from two-score second half deficits is not a good strategy moving forward. Roethlisberger will probably continue to shine when it matters most, but he and the offense need to improve on not playing the team into a deficit in the first place.

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