I was just recently reminded of the cryptic text message I received back on January 22, 2017 immediately following the AFC championship game. The text was from me, and it was sent back in time from 2019 in order to offer some encouragement. The message was as follows:
“I know you’re disappointed in this loss, but the only game Ben Roethlisberger will miss in the next two seasons will be to rest for the playoffs.”
Needless to say, I was ecstatic. The question wasn’t if, but how many Super Bowls this would bring. Could they win it in both seasons? Never did I envision the Steelers not even winning a playoff game in this scenario.
Obviously I have not (yet) used my Physics degree to manipulate the space/time continuum via text message. And if I did, I’m sure I would not use it to merely offer encouragement, but would instead take the Biff Tannen route and offer sports betting information, even if it were only to take down Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis in FanDuel. Regardless of what evils I would use time-texting for, the point of this exercise was to bring up the notion of the perceived success of the Steelers based on the health of Ben Roethlisberger.
The 2016 season had Steeler fans concerned about Roethlisberger’s long-term health before the first regular-season game was played. After missing 5 starts in 2015 with knee and foot issues, Roethlisberger missed time in the wildcard game against the Bengals after hurting his shoulder. Ben did come back to play the following week, although Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams were all out of action against the Broncos. Even being far from healthy, the Steelers managed to have a late lead in the game before losing it on… let’s not hash that out again.
As 2016 got going, Ben ended up needing surgery for a torn meniscus which cost him the game against the Patriots leading into the bye week. With a shaky start coming out of the by where the team didn’t score until almost halfway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers dropped the game to the Ravens and the following week to the Cowboys. But as the team got healthy, they won their final seven games of the season with Ben sitting out the last week to get some rest.
After the loss to the Patriots on that ill-fated January night, many Steeler fans felt very optimistic going into the next season. If only Ben and the rest of the squad could stay healthy, a seventh Lombardi was within their grasp. After all, it was Ben’s health which affected their standing in 2015, and it was the game missed which kept the Steelers from getting a first-round bye in 2016.
Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger playing in every regular season game has not always equaled playoff success. The obvious exception was the first season in which Ben played every game in 2008 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl. But the other three seasons in which Ben has started 16 games, the Steelers have a postseason record of 0–1 having made the playoffs only once. If lowering the standard down to 15 games started for Rothlisberger, it actually begins to look worse. In those five seasons, the Steelers made the playoffs three times, but once again couldn’t find a single victory, giving a record of 0-3. So in the nine seasons in which Ben has started 15 or more games, the Steelers have won the Super Bowl once, and not won a playoff game in the other eight.
In the six seasons Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 4,000 yards or more, the Steelers have not won a playoff game (0-3). In any season in which Ben has thrown 30 or more touchdowns, the Steelers have not won a playoff game (0-2). As for passing attempts, when Rothlisberger has thrown 500 or more passes in the season, the Steelers only have one year in which they won any playoff games (two in 2016). How many playoff wins do you think the Steelers had in the three years Ben had a quarterback rating over 100? That’s correct- zero.
I realize that a lot of the seasons are duplicates. Obviously Ben has a chance to throw more touchdowns or more passes in seasons where he plays more games. The quarterback rating is one which wouldn’t matter how much time he played, but that’s the only one. What all these number support is this: Ben Roethlisberger carrying the Steelers for 16 games is not the determining factor of the team’s success.
I spent a lot of times scouring through the statistics of the Steelers best playoff years with Ben Roethlisberger. Obviously the years in which they reached the Super Bowl (2005, 2008, and 2010) are on top of this list. I also like to throw in 2016 since it was the only other season in which the Steelers won multiple playoff games. And looking at all the stats, there isn’t anything which separates those years out from the others. Having a top ranked defense was part of the success for the Super Bowl teams, but the Steelers still made quite a run in 2016 with just an average defense, and the Steelers had a highly ranked defense in the other seasons early in Ben’s career which did not lead to playoff wins. I searched through rushing yards, rushing attempts, interceptions, completion percentages, and all sorts of different statistics. But there was no magic number which popped out with why the Steelers had the playoff runs in the years they did.
I’ve always been one of the first fans to shout about Ben‘s health being what will determine if the Steeler season is successful or not. I’ve always felt if the Steelers lose Rothlisberger for the year, the season is basically a wash. Although the numbers don’t support it, it is still a very important factor. But it’s the unmeasurable things that really push the Steelers toward success. Teamwork. Balance. Camaraderie. Confidence. Ironically, many of these are things the team could develop to “overcome adversity” in seasons when Ben misses a stretch of games.
Ben Roethlisberger can put up record-setting numbers every year for the rest of his career, but until the Steelers can have success with the unmeasurables, the statistics are not going to paint a good playoff picture.