By Jeremy Hritz
As you have read on The Steel Study, I have been in the process of writing The Big Ben Project, which chronicles the career of Ben Roethlisberger from his beginnings in Findlay, Ohio to current day in 2021 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. As part of this process this season, I will be conducting a weekly study that examines Roethlisberger’s performance against that opponent to gain an understanding of how he has historically performed against that team, and what his output was in those contests. Using that information, in addition to the current contextual information related to the week’s specific contest, I will project Ben’s performance and statistics for the week, and follow up as to how the projection aligned with what Roethlisberger actually produced. The goal of this process is to understand Roethlisberger as a quarterback and what factors influence his play and output.
I hate to call this game a must win against the Cincinnati Bengals, but I am dangerously close. The Steelers cannot afford to drop a 2nd AFC contest, let alone a winnable against an AFC North opponent. That said, the Steelers have to be feeling a sense of urgency heading into the weekend if they truly want to be a contender in the AFC and make a strong playoff push. Lose to the Bengals, and fall to 1-2, and in a hole against fellow division competitors in the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. And did I mention the most difficult part of their schedule is in the second half of the season?
The pressure is on Ben Roethlisberger, injured pectoral muscle and all, and he has to deliver not only a turnover-free game, but also an efficient game in which he can convert third downs, avoid pressure from a fiesty Bengals front seven, and lead an inexperienced and young offensive line. That won’t be too much for you, right Big Ben?
Currently, the Bengals rank 9th against the pass after 2 games, allowing 209.5 yards per game from the arms of Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton/Justin Fields. While not exactly elite passers, all are more mobile than Roethlisberger, and decisiveness will be a critical factor in the Steelers passing game success this weekend as to avoid the youthful pass rush of the Bengals that has tallied 6 sacks in 2 games.
Roethlisberger has not been aided by the rushing game, and if Najee Harris can get moving this weekend, the field could open up for the 18-year veteran. With all of the offseason pounding of the running game drum from the Steelers organization, and after 2 games in 2021 in which the running game was more of a side piece than it was a focal point, the team may be looking to empty the cereal box to see what happens when the running game fills the entire bowl. In other words, with all the talk this offseason, it is time to see what this team can do when Harris gets 25-30 carries. With that said, this will be a game in which the passing game finally (and necessarily) takes a back seat. If the Steelers are to excel, the need production from the running game, but Harris needs more than 10 carries to truly evaluate what they have on the ground.
I called last week for Pittsburgh Pat Freiermuth to have a big game, but that never materialized. This weekend, I think it’s a different story, as the new TE1 is made a focal point in the offense, as Ben attacks the middle of the field, opening not only running lanes, but also spots for a talented receiving group to make some plays. Additionally, Roethlisberger will also work to incorporate Harris into the passing game with dump offs, some resulting in big gains, which will make his passing stats look more robust than they actually are.
I have been close in my projections the last two weeks, and this week, I can see the injury slightly slowing down Ben in terms of the passing game. However, I do believe he will be efficient, finally working the middle of the field, and finally, FINALLY, enjoying the benefits of a running game. With Freiermuth coming up big, and Harris hitting 100 yards, Ben’s stat line against the Bengals will be…
Roethlisberger’s Career Stats Vs. Bengals
Roethlisberger Career Game Stat Line
Roethlisberger 2021 Game Stats
Roethlisberger 2021 Game Projections
|Projection Against Raiders||21||31||67.7||301||2||1||107.6||3|
Projection Vs. Actual Raiders