The Pittsburgh Steelers and their quarterback for the past 18 years seem to be nearing the end of their time together, but first they must travel to Arrowhead Stadium for a pivotal game the day after Christmas. So how will “Big Ben” fare against Kansas City his final time around?
For over fifty years the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers have clashed on the gridiron in what has become a somewhat captivating AFC rivalry. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger has been the quarterback for Pittsburgh for almost two decades worth of those games and in those years he’s gone 6-2 with a 113.0 passer rating against Kansas City.
It hasn’t always been easy for Roethlisberger despite his 75% win percentage. For instance there was Pittsburgh’s 2009 overtime loss where he suffered a concussion after being sacked by Derrick Johnson two minutes into OT.
Roethlisberger’s win percentage against Kansas City (.750) is his 4th-highest against teams he’s played more than five times and both losses that he’s suffered have come within five points or less.
Also, his 17 total TDs against the Chiefs is his fifth-highest total against any team outside his division which pairs well with his lowly four interceptions against KC (4th-best).
Needless to say Big Ben has had the Chiefs’ number for quite some time.
(Fun fact: All four of Big Ben’s interceptions against KC have come on the road at Arrowhead Stadium)
But this year is different…
After starting 11-0 last season without an established running game the Steelers and owner Art Rooney decided to grab the best running back in the draft with their 24th overall pick. This has helped Roethlisberger in a multitude of ways but with one of the worst offensive lines in the league (27th overall) it’s hard for either Steeler to truly get any groove going.
Big Ben has also not looked like himself very often this season and it would appear that his age (39) is starting to affect him more and more. Even with his weapons downfield like Chase Claypool or Diontae Johnson he can’t seem to find the strength or the accuracy to complete as often as he once did.
In fact, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage so far this season (65.2%) is the second-lowest of any QB in the NFL that has thrown 480 or more passes (Trevor Lawrence).
Granted, Roethlisberger is working with less time to throw than any other QB in the league this season (2.39 sec) and has never had the athleticism to truly be considered a threat running the ball. So they are having trouble keeping a clean pocket for Roethlisberger, yet they only rank 17th in sacks allowed (32) and 20th in points scored (291).
Those numbers could be far worse without the experienced leadership that head coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger bring to the table. They could also be far worse if the Steelers’ pass catchers didn’t cover up their quarterback’s shoddy passing play so well.
Let me explain…
Pittsburgh currently ranks 9th in yards after catch (YAC) with 1,778 yards behind teams like Dallas (1,841) and Kansas City (2,261).
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger trails only Detroit QB Jared Goff for lowest average completed air yards (4.8) by a QB (min. 150 pass attempts).
All this means is that the 2x-Super Bowl champion quarterback is heavily relying on screen passes to rookie sensation Najee Harris as well as relying on his receivers to put the team on their back more often since he cannot seem to throw the ball as far as he usually could.
This is not unalike newly retired New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees last season when it was obvious he could not sling it downfield like he used to. (For comparison, Brees ended last season with 5.4 air yards per completion (11th-worst) while Roethlisberger finished with 4.6 (5th-worst).
This Chiefs team is ready
Unlike many Kansas City teams Roethlisberger has faced this season’s Chiefs team has hit their stride and are riding a seven-game win streak into their final home game of the regular season.
The Chiefs defense will be one of the toughest that Big Ben has had the displeasure of playing this season. While they typically don’t get sacks (ranked 4th-worst) the Chiefs still can bring serious pressure if Chris Jones and former Steeler Melvin Ingram are both healthy and attacking from the same side.
Roethlisberger might get some help though, especially if Kansas City’s COVID-19 outbreak keeps key players like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill out of the game. If that ends up being the case it might not have to be the type of game where Big Ben needs to throw 45-50 times.
Nonetheless, QB Patrick Mahomes is ready to defend his home field one last time this regular season. He’s ready to send Roethlisberger back to Pittsburgh with a 2-2 record at Arrowhead over his 18 seasons. And he’s definitely ready to show he is the best quarterback on the field like he did the last time these two played each other when he had a near-perfect passer rating (154.8) and six touchdowns..
Also, Kansas City’s eighth-ranked defense has adjusted so well over the last two months which sprouts confidence whether cornerbacks Rashad Fenton or Charvarius Ward are both still out with COVID-19 or not. Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can surely find ways to stump this anemic Pittsburgh offense and their dreadful running game which ranks 31st in yards, and 26th in TDs.
No matter who is out on the field on offense or defense the key to stopping Roethlisberger, in what might be his final game against #ChiefsKingdom, is swallowing the poor offensive line of the Steelers and preventing screens from forming or gaining major yards.
And while Roethlisberger ranked fifth against the pressure last season there just isn’t enough time for him to make his necessary reads this year as compared to 2020. Not to mention he won’t be in a stadium with only half capacity.
No matter what Roethlisberger will have to pull out all the stops if he wants to finish his career against Kansas City with seven victories in the win column, even with COVID-19 protocols plaguing the Chiefs on a daily basis leading up to Christmas weekend.
I would love to watch the Chiefs beat the Steelers this week and it’s always great to see Rapistberger sacked and in pain, but I worry that KC may be missing too many players to Covid.