As it turned out, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t need quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be excellent last night, but he was. And he was as excellent as he has been this season, in a performance that will be better served coming against an opponent that can produce more than a 35-point differential.
For the fourth straight game, the 12th-year quarterback threw for over 300 yards, the third consecutive game in which he has thrown for at least 350 yards or more. He completed 24 of 39 passes, many of the incompletions coming on deep balls, for 364 yards and a season-high four touchdown passes.
Equally important is that he broke a career-long five game streak during which he threw at least one interception. Roethlisberger had thrown seven interceptions over the course of the past four games since he returned from injury.
The net result has his second-best quarterback rating of the year. His 126.4 rating for the game—which would have gone up if not for Martavis Bryant’s inability to snare what would have been Roethlisberger’s fifth touchdown pass—brought his season quarterback rating back closer to 100, sitting at the moment at 98.1.
In spite of the fact that he has missed a third of the season, he has thrown for 2707 yards in just eight games, averaging a staggering 338.4 yards per game. projected over the course of a full season, that would put him over 5400 yards and in competition for Peyton Manning’s single-season record.
The fact that he is on pace for and in reach of throwing for 4000 yards while playing a maximum of 12 games this year is in itself astounding. The fact that he leads the league in passing yards per game helps that tremendously.
Equally relevant is the fact that he has been monstrously efficient on his targets. Not only does he lead the league in yards per game, he also leads the league in yards per pass attempt, leapfrogging Carson Palmer this week.
After gaining 364 yards on 39 pass attempts, Roethlisberger is now averaging 8.88 yards per pass attempt. Palmer is just behind him, however, averaging 8.83 yards per pass attempt. Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton are the only other quarterbacks averaging more than eight yards per attempt.
Roethlisberger’s offense has become one of big plays, and he had several last night, which unsurprisingly came against a secondary that had given up as many explosive plays through the air as anybody in the league. He connected on six pass plays of 20 yards or more against Indianapolis, bringing his season total to 36, or 4.5 per game.
But there was no statistic more rewarding than the three touchdown passes thrown for less than 10 yards. That means that the Steelers offense converted three times in the red zone, in all converting three of four trips into touchdowns, and two of two in goal-to-go situations. Quite simply, it was a performance to build upon.