The Indianapolis Colts have had a rough go of it at the quarterback position this year, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh has had to endure five games without Ben Roethlisberger starting, although in one game he came off the bench to play a historic game for a backup quarterback.
Tonight, Colts starter Andrew Luck is set to miss his fifth game of the season. The Steelers have gone 3-2 in the games Roethlisberger didn’t start. The Colts, in the meantime, have popped up their 6-5 record mainly with their backup, who has gone 4-0 thus far.
That backup is former Seahawks starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was on the losing end of the Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl XL result. The 40-year old is not the same player who participated in that game over a decade ago, but he clearly still has enough left in the tank to run the Colts’ offense.
On the season, Hasselbeck is completing just under 65 percent of his passes, as his success is predicated upon accuracy, completing 97 of 150 pass attempts thus far. While he is only averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt—nearly half a yard more than Luck—for a total of 1023 passing yards, he has remained relatively efficient.
The veteran has thrown for seven touchdowns while only two of his throws have been picked off. Equally important is the fact that he has been sacked only eight times in well over 100 drop backs, which works out to a sack in well under 10 percent of drop backs.
In fact, Hasselbeck has only been pressured on a little over a quarter of his drop backs on the year, among the least pressured in the league, and it’s not necessarily because the Colts have a sterling offensive line up front—in fact, they don’t.
The reason for the 40-year-old’s success is because he has been able to utilize his resources efficiently, as evidenced by his 94.4 quarterback rating. He has a great wealth of accumulated knowledge and, like an aging pitcher in baseball, has learned to modify his game to beat his opponents with more finesse and less power.
Hasselbeck knows all there is to know about reading defenses pre-snap and setting up his offense to counter what the defense is showing. He gets through his progressions quickly and makes the decision of where to throw the ball quickly, and he does so with a quick release.
As a result, opposing defenses have had a difficult time getting pressure on him, and he has even shown surprising mobility given his longevity. At times, the Colts even have him run a bootleg to get him out in space.
The Steelers will have their work cut out for them getting their pass rush in sync with their coverage. If the pressure doesn’t get home in time, the odds would not seem to be in favor of the secondary holding up their end for longer than four or five seconds, on a good play.