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Calculating Ben Roethlisberger’s playing time in his 2019 preseason debut

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Roethlisberger is set to start in his first game of the season in Tennessee Sunday night

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Of all the games in the preseason, Week 3 is the most anticipated when it comes to Steelers’ fans. After seeing most of the team participate in the first two weeks, Sunday night in Tennessee will be the first and only action for Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, 2019 will be the fourth year in a row where Roethlisberger has only played in one of the four preseason games.

So how much of Ben Roethlisberger can we expect to see against the Titans? Will he only play a series, or will it be the entire first quarter? As much as we would like to know, I’m sure Mike Tomlin is not completely set on exactly how the playing time will pan out when it comes to Roethlisberger. But one thing we can do is look at Roethlisberger’s playing time the previous three seasons in order to get a feel for how things might progress for the Steelers quarterback in Week 3 of the preseason.

Here are some key statistics for Ben Roethlisberger in the preseason since 2016. In all three years it was Roethlisberger’s only action, and each game occurred in Week 3.


2018

3 drives

24 plays

7 points scored

11/18 for 114 yards

1 touchdown

10 first downs


2017

2 drives

16 plays

3 points scored

6/9 for 73 yards

0 touchdowns

7 first downs


2016

2 drives

19 plays

14 points

12/17 for 148 yards

2 touchdowns

8 first downs


Hopefully by looking at these statistic, we can get a better feel as to what Steelers’ fans can expect Sunday night. Of the three games listed above, only in 2018 did Roethlisberger play past the first quarter. The element of time is not a large determining factor because the length of the opponents drives becomes a big part of the equation. If the Titans get the opening kickoff and have two time-consuming drives their first two possessions, the Steelers may not start their second series until the second quarter.

One of the more surprising things which stands out from these statistics is that Big Ben played an extra drive in 2018. After the first two series, Roethlisberger had thrown a touchdown, run 16 offensive plays, and had passed the ball 13 times with 8 completions. Yet only two plays into the second quarter, Roethlisberger came in for a third drive which ended with the Steelers turning the ball over on downs. Since it was the most recent game of the group, it could show a trend to keep Roethlisberger on the field for a little more work.

Based on the games from the previous three preseasons, it is safe to say Roethlisberger will play at least two series. Depending on the number of plays, a third series is a possibility if the first two drives were less than 20 total plays. Obviously the point of each possession is to put the ball in the end zone, but the points scored by the Steelers with Roethlisberger in the game will have little or no bearing on the number of drives he plays.

The number which will help the most in determining how many drives Roethlisbeger will orchestrate on Sunday is the number of plays run. If the Steelers go three and out their first two drives, Roethlisberger will probably see the field a third time. If the third opportunity also does not produce a first down, four drives would not be out of the question. If any drive is shortened by a turnover or a quick score, it would most likely add another series to Roethlisberger’s night. A range of 15 to 25 plays will probably be all we see from Big Ben regardless of the number of series he is leading the team.

With taking the number of plays and drives into consideration, I would like to see Roethlisberger on the field for two series in which the team produces points while running about 20 total plays. If the Steelers score quickly on one series, I would not be opposed to Big Ben getting one extra drive on the night.

When Coach Tomlin makes the decision on Sunday to remove Roethlisberger from the game, it will be based on a balance of snaps, series, and effectiveness. While we can speculate all we want, until we see the production from the first unit the situation will be very fluid. If you had to bet on anything, the safest route would be Roethlisberger coming out after halftime without pads.