It was part of his scouting report coming out of college that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a big arm. Given the fact that his size often finds him in a situation in which he is larger than those trying to tackle him, that would indeed stand to reason.
But a strong arm and an accurate deep pass are not synonymous, and the deep ball has not always been a strength for Roethlisberger, at least not on a year-to-year basis, with natural fluctuations based on the personnel. It is, however, an area that has been trending upward in recent years, demonstrating a steady incline in completion percentage over the course of the past four seasons.
Pro Football Focus, in fact, has Roethlisberger completing over 50 percent of his deep targets from a year ago, an improvement of around eight points from the year prior, which was an improvement of about six points from 2013, and so on.
It would stand to reason that, with Martavis Bryant, his primary deep threat, suspended for the duration of the 2016 season, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage on deep throws could be in line to take a hit as a result. With that in mind, it would be useful, of course, to take a look at the actual numbers and see what they have to say.
Including plays negated by penalty, our logs show Roethlisberger targeting Bryant 96 times overall from any distance. Of those targets, 29 of them were on passes thrown at least 15 yards down the field. Bryant caught 12 of those passes, while two of the incompletions drew defensive pass interference flags.
Thus, on 27 non-penalized deep targets, Roethlisberger and Bryant connected on 12, or roughly 44.5 percent. The 12 receptions produced 396 total yards, of which 292 can be accounted for in the air, or about 74 percent of the total yardage. The average gain on those catches was 33 yards, while the average yards per attempt on the 27 passes 14.7, without factoring in the two pass interferences drawn. Two passes went for touchdowns.
While that is a sizable chunk of offense, it is worth pointing out that Markus Wheaton caught 16 passes on deep targets for 447 yards from Roethlisberger as well, although he did so on 32 targets. Darrius Heyward-Bey also caught five passes on 16 deep targets for 243 yards. Antonio Brown accounted for 29 receptions on 58 deep targets for 749 yards from Roethlisberger. About a dozen of those incompletions were negated by penalties, however, half of which were defensive pass interference calls.
As much as Bryant may have been a significant component of the deep passing game, then, it does seem that they have more than enough firepower to keep that aspect of the offense quite afloat, with Brown unsurprisingly being the primary catalyst.
Adding to the mix this season new deep threats in Sammie Coates and Ladarius Green, one can imagine that the Steelers offense with Roethlisberger will at least duplicate their deep passing success with our without their perceived biggest deep passing threat in Bryant, and might perhaps even surpass it if Roethlisberger remains healthy and upright.