Thursday, September 13, 2012

Big Ben in the Clutch

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you know I'm not the bridge-jumping type. I try to be rational. That said, there was a thought that started bouncing around in my head after the Steelers loss to the Broncos. This might seem a bit radical, so bear with me. I started to wonder if Ben Roethlisberger has actually declined as a clutch quarterback.

Yes, I know, this is quite the thought for someone who has 26 career game winning drives and engineered a masterful drive to win Super Bowl XLIII.

Of Ben's 26 career Game Winning Drives, 18 of them came in the first 5 years of Ben's career, culminating with the winning drive in Super Bowl XLIII. This was an average of 3.6 Game Winning Drives per year for Ben. In the 3 seasons since the Super Bowl win, Ben has 8 Game Winning Drives, an average of 2.6 per year.

Maybe this isn't a huge dropoff though. There are obviously other factors at play that should be considered. First, let's try to determine how many games Ben actually had an opportunity for a Game Winning Drive.

In 2004, the Steelers were 15-1 and beat the Jets in the playoffs. Their two losses (Baltimore and New England in the Championship Game) were blowouts so Ben converted all of his Game Winning Drive opportunities (6 for 6).

In 2005, Ben is credited with 2 GWDs. In the Steelers 5 losses that year, Ben only had one opportunity for a Game Winning Drive when he took over with 2:28 to play against Cincinnati with the Steelers down by 7 points. It's questionable to include that one as a touchdown would've only sent the game to overtime.

In 2006, Ben had 3 Game Winning Drives. Ben had an opportunity for a game tying drive down by 8 against Cincinnati that he did not convert. Against Oakland, the Steelers took over down by 7 with 5 minutes to play but failed to get points. In both cases, the Steelers needed a touchdown to force overtime, so it's hard to count either situation as a potential GWD.

In 2007, Ben had 2 Game Winning Drives. In the loss to Arizona, the Steelers last possession started with them down by 7 with 46 seconds to play. Ben's first real failure in a Game Winning Drive situation came against the Jets when the Steelers got the ball in overtime and went 3-and-out. Questionable play-calling as the Steelers ran on 3rd and 14 after Ben was sacked on second down. Four weeks later, Ben had another chance against Jacksonville when he took over down by 7 with 2 minutes to play. The Steelers picked up one first down but came up short when Heath was called short of the sticks on a 4th down play. In the playoffs, Ben got the ball down by 3 with 30 seconds to play at the Steelers 28. Ben was sacked on the first play and fumbled the ball and that was all she wrote on 2007. On the whole, two of these drives Ben took over with a touchdown deficit and at best could have tied the game. This is the first time I'd definitely say Ben came up short in a GWD opportunity. Both the drives in the Jets and Jags (playoff) games fell apart because Ben got sacked.

In 2008 Ben returned to form with 5 Game Winning Drives and is credited with a 6th Fourth Quarter Comeback for the Dallas game when Ben engineered the tying drive then Deshea Townsend won the game with a Pick-6 with two minutes to play. Against the Giants, Ben had a chance with 2 minutes to play down by 7, but the drive failed to go anywhere. Ben had a chance to answer Peyton Manning's touchdown drive against the Colts when the Steelers took over with 3 minutes to go trailing by 4. Ben got the Steelers into Colts territory and down to the 27 yard line, but Nate Washington couldn't bring down a Hail Mary. The one against the Colts I would chalk up as a failed Game Winning Drive opportunity.

Up until this point, Ben is credited with 13 GWDs and we have identified 3 failures (Jets in 07, Jags in 07, Colts in 08). 13-for-16 is pretty damn good. Ben had 3 Game Winning Drives in 2009 but came up short a few times. Against Cincinnati, Ben took over down by 6 with 2 minutes to play and threw 4 incomplete passes.The Kansas City game can also be chalked up as a failure. After the Chiefs tied the game, the Steelers took over with just under 5 minutes to play then again with just under 2 minutes to play and failed to score on either drive. Ben was injured on the first drive of overtime, but he had moved the Steelers to the fringe of field goal range, but an asinine play call on 3rd down murdered the drive. I'm not counting the Oakland game as a failure by Ben because he took over with just 8 seconds left in the game and produced a touchdown on the previous possession to give the Steelers the lead (that the defense squandered). Ben had two 4th quarter drives against the Browns with the Steelers down by 7 and failed to score either time. As I've done before, I'm not going to count this one as a failure because a touchdown only would have tied the game. On the whole, Ben had 3 GWDs and 2 failures in 2009.

In 2010, Ben had 4 Game Winning Drives and 2 failures. The first came against the Jets when Ben took over down by 5 with two minutes to play. Ben drove the team down to the Jets 10 and had two shots at the end zone. The first he had Manny Sanders open in the back of the end zone but Matt Spaeth thought the pass was for him and tipped the ball away from Sanders. Ben tried to go to Spaeth on the sideline on the last play of the game but Matt couldn't come up with it. The second came in the Super Bowl where, despite 3 turnovers that turned into 21 points, the Steelers still had a chance - getting the ball down by 6 with two minutes to play. We picked up one first down but couldn't convert a 4th and 5.

In 2011, Ben had only 1 Game Winning Drive. The Steelers had an opportunity against Houston to march the length of the field and tie the game in the last minute, but Ben threw an interception. 99 yards to get 7 points in 1 minute would've been a tall order. The biggest failure of the year came in Denver when Ben got the ball with the game tied and 1:37 on the clock. We got across midfield but two sacks and a delay of game penalty ended regulation and sent it to overtime. And we all know what happened there.

To start the 2012 season, Ben took over down by 6 with 2 minutes to go and threw a pick-6.

So let's look at the tallies on the whole:

2004 - 6 for 6
2005 - 2 for 2 (1 failed tying drive)
2006 - 3 for 3 (2 failed tying drives)
2007 - 2 for 4 (2 failed tying drives)
2008 - 5 for 6 (1 failed tying drive)
2009 - 3 for 5 (1 failed tying drive)
2010 - 4 for 6
2011 - 1 for 2 (1 failed tying drive)
2012 - 0 for 1

Obviously, Ben's failure to engineer Game Winning Drives has dipped a little bit over time. Ben was 18 for 21 in the first 5 years of his career and is 8 for 14 over the last 4 seasons (including 1 game in 2012). Obviously, there is a lot more data to consider (such as whether touchdowns or field goals were needed). I just looked at success rate here. But it seems to me that there is a fairly clear divide after the Super Bowl XLIII drive. Up to and including that drive, Ben had an 85% success rate on Game Winning Drives. Since then, Ben has only a 57% success rate on Game Winning Drives. On the whole, I don't think this is necessarily cause for concern just yet, but it's something interesting to consider and keep in mind as this season moves forward.

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