We’ve looked at a lot of vital factors to Ben Roethlisberger’s career year last season, and seen vivid examples of how the usage of running backs and the creation of mismatches with the receiving corps helped elevate the team’s offensive success in 2014. Because of the increase in higher-percentage throws and the prowess of his receivers to win one-on-one against man coverage from multiple spots in the formation, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage reached the highest mark of his career last year at 67.1 percent.
That number, maybe belabored at this point, is simply an indication of the passing game’s overall success, but today we’ll look at how Roethlisberger himself played a pivotal role in the stellar play of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.
Almost everyone accepts the fact that Roethlisberger is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but today I’ll show you two things that set him apart as a passer in 2014. One is a well-known attribute the quarterback is still perfecting, the other is a trait that Roethlisberger doesn’t get enough credit for in my opinion.
We’ll use two examples of occurrences that happened quite frequently when I scoured tape from the 2014 season, both of which come from the Steelers Week 1 date against the Cleveland Browns.
Play #1 is a 1st-and-10 for Pittsburgh from their own 20 up 24-3 over their division rivals late in the 2nd quarter. Working from the shotgun, Roethlisberger’s first read is a screen pass to the strong side of the formation where Antonio Brown is left in a one-on-one situation thanks to the vertical dual clearing routes by Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller.
Roethlisberger clearly has Brown open for what will likely be a short gain on 1st down, but the quarterback moves to his second read anyway. A number of factors come into play here, with pocket presence being the most commendable, but personally I love the aggressiveness from Roethlisberger. Doesn’t matter that he’s up 24-3, doesn’t matter that he’s deep in his own territory, doesn’t matter that it is just a 1st-and-10.
Roethlisberger knows he has Justin Brown isolated one-on-one down the left sideline, and while the coverage is tight, a perfect back shoulder throw nets the Steelers a 23-yard gain. The play is called back for a push by Brown, but that type of aggressive throw on a timing route while trusting an unproven receiver shows the guts that Roethlisberger brings to the position.
But while guts are great, they can’t make a throw like that. A toss this perfect comes from time and dedication to your craft, which is why Roethlisberger himself deserves a ton of credit for a career season.
Play #2 details a trait we’ve come to know and love about Roethlisberger: his ability to buy time and extend a play with his feet. No one would ever make the claim that Roethlisberger is the most athletic quarterback in the NFL, but the big passer is nimble and has exceptional awareness in the midst of chaos.
This play actually comes earlier in the second quarter with Pittsburgh leading 10-3.
Pressure comes quickly as the Browns bring a fifth, late blitzer that leaks through the Steelers protection. Roethlisberger stands tall, evades the rush, and escapes the pocket with heavy pursuit from Cleveland’s defense. On the dead run Roethlisberger manages to uncork an almost 50-yard bomb, dropping the pass right on the money to Antonio Brown, who had beaten Joe Haden on the deep post route coming all the way from the opposite side of the field. Just an incredible throw, to get his shoulders square and feet underneath him and still be able to launch a pass like that while escaping the pocket.
Being able to extend plays and create big gains despite pressure has been a staple of Roethlisberger’s game throughout his career, but the quarterback has gotten even more adept at learning when and where to use the ability. More often than not you’ll see Roethlisberger hang in the pocket nowadays, but the unique gift to turn nothing into something is still there in abundance.
So while the prowess of his skill players and the offensive schemes of Todd Haley have helped make Roethlisberger a more accurate quarterback, the lion’s share of credit still belongs to the veteran signal caller.
After all, the good quarterbacks make all the throws they should, the great quarterbacks make the throws the good ones can’t – or won’t.