How Big of a Deal Has Ben Roethlisberger's Absence Been for the Steelers?
Steeler fans thought the season was over. When Ben Roethlisberger was injured against the Rams in Week 3, the season -- for a couple of hours -- looked like it was over.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger's injury wasn't a torn ACL. It wasn't something that would sideline him for the entire season.
If you've never been to numberFire before, you may not be aware of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP measures the number of points (real points, not fantasy points) a player adds for his team versus what he should have added for his team, based on history. You can read all about it in our glossary.
We use NEP because it gives us a better idea of how a player performs versus traditional box score statistics. All interceptions aren't created equal, and a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-15 isn't nearly as impactful as a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-9. NEP helps determine the actual worth of each play.
Passing is more efficient than rushing, so quarterback NEP totals will skew higher than running back tallies. In fact, entering Week 7, only six starting NFL quarterbacks had negative Passing NEP totals. In other words, "expectation" isn't zero when you're simply comparing within the position -- it's higher than that.
Ben Roethlisberger -- and this shouldn't come as a shock considering he had the best season of his career last year -- ended 2014 with the third highest Passing NEP total, finishing behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. His 159.10 Passing Net Expected Points averaged out to about 10 Passing Net Expected Points per game, and on a per drop back basis, Ben was averaging 0.25 Passing NEP. Those were both career highs.
Keep those averages in mind. Because Landry Jones and Michael Vick have not been Ben Roethlisberger-esque. At all.
Take a look at the chart below showing Jones and Vick's per-game numbers with Big Ben sidelined.
|Michael Vick||San Diego||0.84|
|Landry Jones||Kansas City||-8.96|
Let's just assume Roethlisberger would keep up his pace from 2014 in 2015, averaging, again, roughly 10 Passing Net Expected Points per game. That means that, against Baltimore, the Steelers would have seen roughly a 19-point swing in their favor had Big Ben played. Against San Diego, the swing in points would have been 9. Versus Arizona, we're looking at 5. And yesterday against the Chiefs, another 19.
Given the Steelers lost to the Ravens by a field goal and the Chiefs by 10, it's not a stretch at all to think a Ben Roethlisberger-led Steeler team could be 6-1 right now. Even if Ben played half as efficient as last year, we're still looking at a 6-1 record for Pittsburgh.
That would've made this weekend's showdown against Cincinnati even bigger. Instead, the Steelers are in a must win to keep any division title hopes alive.