Was the adjustment to Steelers line an overreaction?

Nov 14, 2012 |
By: Jon Campbell
Was the adjustment to Steelers line an overreaction?
The Steelers will miss Big Ben scrambling on third down.
The Steelers will miss Big Ben scrambling on third down.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will start backup quarterback Byron Leftwich against the Baltimore Ravens at home this Sunday and sportsbooks have responded by making major adjustments to the odds.

After opening the Steelers at -3.5 with a total of 46, the odds had the Steelers at +3 Wednesday morning with the total at 41 - and potentially still on the way down.

This is an enormous adjustment by NFL standards. It's so rare in fact, there have only been 15 line moves of 6 points or more in the NFL from the opening line to the closing line going back the past 15 years to 1997.

This one is especially surprising considering Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder/rib injury wasn’t a huge shock. Football bettors all watched as Big Ben went down early in the third quarter Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs and  knew he was taken straight to hospital and did not return. Normally, when this sort of thing happens, it's because of an out-of-nowhere injury or an unpredictable event that happens throughout the course of a week leading up to the game.

The injury is an SC shoulder sprain, an excruciating one that involves ligament tearing and requires rest to heal. Fans and oddsmakers have grown used to Roethlisberger getting hit with injuries and finding ways to play through the pain, though. In this case, it certainly seems like they assumed Big Ben would be back under center this Sunday.

Reports began surfacing Tuesday that Roethlisberger’s injury may keep him out a while and the line began to drop like a punt from the sky.

“A 7-point line move (at one book) seems like a bit of an overreaction to me,” says Las Vegas-based Covers Expert Teddy Covers. “Especially when we consider that: 1. Byron Leftwich is not Caleb Hanie -- he was a starting QB in this league for several years, not an absolute bottom feeder QB. And 2. The Ravens have a dramatic road/home dichotomy, simply not the same team when you take them out of Baltimore.”

Fellow Covers Expert Steve Merril had a similar opinion. He cited that Leftwich is a former NFL starter and pointed out that you have to look beyond just the quarterback to see the value in this game.  

“For the season (the Steelers) are averaging just 105 rushing yards per game, but they have gained at least 136 rushing yards or more in four of their last six games,” Merril says. “That includes at least 140 rushing yards or more in three of their last four games. This should help take some pressure off Leftwich.”

Perhaps the biggest area the Steelers will miss Roethlisberger is on third down. Pittsburgh leads the NFL on third downs converted (66) and third down conversion percentage (49.6).

"Roethlisberger is a drive extender," says Teddy Covers, "Leftwich is not. There is a drop-off. But I don't think it's a 7-point drop-off, particularly in the first week without Big Ben facing a divisional foe at home with the division lead on the line."

Here’s a quick look some numbers that influenced this steep line move:

- In five drives Monday night, Leftwich managed to produce only one field goal. He went 7 of 14 for 73 yards and overthrew several receivers.

- Roethlisberger has played 90 percent of the snaps for Pittsburgh over the past five years. The Steelers average 5.6 yards per play with him in and 5.0 yards per play when he’s not. He has 100 TDs to 51 INTs compared to six TDs and six INTs by other QBs over that same period.

- Leftwich has only played in two games over the past three seasons, completing 12 of 21 pass attempts. He has lost his last six games as a starter with his last win coming in 2006.

-The Steelers are 5-1 against the spread over the past five seasons with Roethlisberger out. That includes a 27-0 win over St. Louis on Christmas Eve last year and covering nine points easily in a Sunday nighter in 2009 at Baltimore in a 20-17 loss. Charlie Batch started both games.

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