The Clutch Enigma: Ben Roethlisberger, Part II

After looking at Ben Roethlisberger’s playoff performances earlier this week, we’ll finish the analysis of Big Ben today with a glance at his situational stats, as well as comparing him to the previous two quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. 

While Roethlisberger’s reputation has been one of a “winner,” his performance in the playoffs has not been as clutch as the media often makes it out to be. Just last year, in the midst of the Steelers third Super Bowl run in seven years, ESPN blogger James Walker proclaimed Ben Roethlisberger “The NFL’s Most Clutch QB.” Of course, Walker’s sole defense of this claim was Roethlisberger’s playoff record, using the oh-so-flawed “QB Wins” mantra. As we saw Tuesday, Roethlisberger’s performances in the playoffs have been fairly pedestrian, yet the myth persists. 

Of course, playoff performance isn’t the only thing to take into consideration. How does Roethlisberger perform in certain situations, specifically in high-pressure situations?

Year 1st Half 2nd Half Last 2 Mins Behind Behind by 1 Score Tied 4th Quarter 4th Quarter w/in 7 Margin: One Possession

Total QB Rating

2004 91 94 70.7 110.6 76 74.4 110.5 110.2 116.9 98.1
2005 107.9 86.8 66.5

112.3

117.4 101.4 72.1 83.3 94.2 98.6
2006 87.1 62 67 69.5

76.9

75.4

58.8

55.5

91.1

75.4
2007 96.5 109.1 85.8 101.5 122.9 104.3 106.7 111.1 90.9 104.1
2008 76.8 88.4 70.9 92.6 119.4 75.9 78.8 83.2 78.7 80.1
2009 109.1 90.3 110.8 102 103.3 107.2 101.8 98.2 94.1 100.5
2010 86.9 101.6 82.1 92.5 83.2 77.1 108.2 79.4 87.1 97
2011 92 85.6 61.6 73.2 75 96.9 79.1 80.9 81.8 90.1
Total 93.4 89.7 76.9 94.3 96.8 89.1 89.5 87.7 91.8 92.1

Again, the erratic nature of situational stats makes it difficult to see general trends with the data (one reason why I’m skeptical of truly “clutch” players), but we’ll try distinguish some patterns from the data. 

The most important statistic, something I hope we’ve established by this point, is the “4th quarter w/in 7″ (4QW7) category, an erratic one for Roethlisberger, as we see two seasons with a rating over 110, one under 60, one in the 70s, 3 in the 80s, and one in the 90s. However, when you look at the numbers next to his total QB rating, the numbers don’t seem quite so out of place. 

BenClutchvsRegWhile not quite as erratic as his 4QW7 ratings, Roethlisberger’s regular season ratings seem to follow a similar pattern.

But does it point to Roethlisberger being clutch? Obviously you would need to look at games individually, but as a whole, Roethlisberger’s performance in these situations isn’t any better than his total performance. Roethlisberger’s ratings in clutch situations is actually worse than his normal performance, more similar to Tom Brady than Eli Manning. 

For example, Brady’s career rating for 4QW7 is about 83, where as his career QB rating is 96.4. Roethlisberger doesn’t have quite the drop off, having a career rating of 92.1, compared to about 88 for 4QW7. Eli, on the other hand, slightly elevates his performance, going from 82.1 overall to about 83 for his 4QW7 rating. 

Here are the quarterbacks 4QW7 ratings compared: 

4qw7_graph_BEB

Note: Brady’s 2008 season is not included in this graph, as he did not have any fourth quarter play before being injured. Also, his rookie season is not included, as he was not a starter at that time. 

Well, that’s somewhat cluttered, and not very helpful. Instead, we’ll look at a scatter plot, with a regression line thrown in to give us a clearer picture of what’s going on. 

4qw7_scatter

While not perfect in any sense, this gives a broader look at the quarterbacks performance in clutch situations. While Eli has gotten better over the years, as has Brady (to a lesser extent), Roethlisberger has had a tough time matching his clutch, yet inconsistent, performances of his early years. Brady was the opposite, being fairly consistent in his early years, but has been pretty inconsistent in the last five years or so. Eli, on the other hand, has consistently gotten better in 4QW7 situations, and at this point in their careers, I don’t think you could point to any one being a better performer in clutch situations. 

But, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Clutch performance isn’t merely who plays at the highest level in pressure situations, but who keeps their cool and performs the best relative to their talent. In other words, if one quarterback gets worse in pressure situations, and another gets better, but their play is equal, are they both equally clutch? If Joe Flacco and Tom Brady perform the same in pressure situations, then are they equally clutch?

I don’t think so. So, in order to truly answer the question, we must look at the difference between a quarterback’s 4QW7 rating and their total QB rating for the season, to gauge how “cool” a quarterback really is. 

difference

Here is where we see the difference in these quarterbacks. Tom Brady, without question, has been one of the top two quarterbacks in the past decade, and is still quite clearly the best of the three. But of the three, his performance is the one most affected in pressure situations, and not in a positive way. Brady has only had two seasons in his career with a positive differential, and it was very slight, in 2002 and 2003.

Roethlisberger has 3 of his 8 years in the positive side, but his five in the negative are much farther away from his average than his positives are (Positives average +7.4,  negatives average a -13.26). 

Eli, on the other hand, has consistently had a positive differential, being slightly better than his normal production in every year but 2010 (where it didn’t help that he only threw 27 passes in those situations throughout the entire year). 2011, however, was an incredible turn around, as Eli had an incredibly clutch year. 

Going back to Roethlisberger, his play in clutch situations has been better than Brady’s in recent years (and actually better than Eli’s over his entire career), but has been passed By Eli’s consistently clutch passing. As of now, both Roethlisberger and Manning have many years to continue to shape their legacy, but as of now, Eli has the upper hand in the clutch department. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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