As the Steelers head into their two biggest games of the season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is warming up at just the right time. Through the first 4 games of the season it was obvious that his accuracy was a bit off and his week 1 performance against the Ravens was one to forget. After the week 4 loss to the Texans, Roethlisberger had an 80.2 passer rating with a 62% completion rating. He still had a very respectable yards per pass average though of 8.3, thanks to Mike Wallace, but he also had thrown 5 interceptions compared to just 3 touchdown passes. He was pretty banged up as we all know through those 4 games.
Even though Roethlisberger has played behind a different starting offensive line combination every week through the Sunday game against the Cardinals, he has progressed. Over the last 3 weeks he has 65% completion percentage and has thrown 9 touchdowns and just 1 interception. That lone pick came on a bad decision right before the half against the Titans that we all clearly remember. His yards per attempt however remains fairly unchanged at 8.2. Funny how the long ball can do that. Thanks again, Mike.
Although it might not be so very noticeable outside of the game against the Titans, Roethlisberger has been more accurate in the short passing game over that span of 3 games and is clearly making better decisions. This was most evident this past Sunday as he dumped the ball off to his running backs instead of forcing the ball into tight coverages a few times. Despite his 52.2% completion percentage against the Jaguars two weeks ago, he managed to come out of the game with an 8.70 yards per attempt. As I showed in an earlier post, the Jaguars were determined to take the underneath stuff away in that game and make him beat them with passes 21 yards or more. The more I re-watch that game, the more I think the wind could have indeed played a role in his accuracy problem. Against the Cardinals he only threw 5 balls longer than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage of his 39 attempts. Against the Jaguars 7 of his 23 passes were 20 yards or longer and 5 of those 7 flew 40 yards or more. He connected on just 2 of those. He tried to take what the Jaguars were giving him and he just couldn\’t connect enough. It is hard to rely so heavily on that many long passes and the Jaguars defense is simply underrated. Just ask Baltimore and Joe Flacco. Not that the two are close to being on the same level though, as the Jaguars did the same thing to the Ravens that they did to the Steelers and Flacco finished with a 3.61 yards per attempt and a 55% completion ratio. Need I mention he completed one to himself?
Another encouraging sign from the Cardinals game is how he seems to be getting on the same page now with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. I called for this as well several days ago and this past Sunday Roethlisberger connected on 12 of 16 passes to the sophomore receivers. A cool 75% completion ratio. The attention that Wallace garners along with the possibility that Hines Ward could be slowed by his ankle injury the next few weeks, makes it very important that this is just not a one game fluke.
While the pass protection has a ways to go, it seems to have at least become manageable for Roethlisberger since Max Starks has returned and Roethlisberger just seems more relaxed than he did in the first four games. Regardless of what it exactly is, the next two games will really give a glimpse of what time of team the 2011 Steelers really are and Roethlisberger will need to keep this great run going if the Steelers want to have any chance of going 2-0 in these games.
Below is a look at some quarterback stats divided up between the first 4 weeks and the last 3. Of course several have had bye weeks recently so keep that in mind when using them as a measuring stick.