The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have one of the best third-down pass catchers in the league in wide receiver Antonio Brown. But the rest of their current pass catchers who don’t play running back, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, and Jesse James have combined to catch all of 31 third-down passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and only 46.97% of all third down targets during their time in Pittsburgh. In other words, those catch percentages certainly need to improve moving forward. In defense of Coates and James, they didn’t see much playing time as rookies when Roethlisberger was in the lineup.
When tight end Heath Miller retired from the Steelers earlier in the offseason the team not only lost a great member of their locker room and a consummate professional, they also lost a pass catcher who was very reliable as he had caught 71.8% of all regular-season passes that had been thrown his way during his 11 seasons in the league. While that stat is impressive in and of itself, Miller’s 68.9% career catch rate on third downs was also impressive. With that noted, Miller only had 34 third down receptions over the course of the last three seasons, an average of a little more than 11 a year.
After Miller retired the Steelers immediately replaced him by signing free agent tight end Ladarius Green, who spent his first four years in the league with the San Diego Chargers and the hope is he can immediately pick up where he predecessor left off and specifically on third downs. While he did play second-fiddle to tight end Antonio Gates during his four seasons in San Diego, Green still managed to catch 15 third down passes during that span for a 62.5% catch rate. While it’s a limited body of work to go on, the fact that Green was so reliable on that crucial down gives us all hope that he’ll be just as reliable in Pittsburgh now that he’s bound to receive more playing time.
Due to him undergoing offseason surgery on his ankle, Green wasn’t able to take part in the team’s OTA practices that concluded last week and by the sound of things he’ll also miss the upcoming mandatory minicamp. In other words, he and Roethlisberger will only have training camp and the preseason games together when it comes to working together on the field and that’s a bit concerning when it comes to the big third down shoes that he’s expected to fill this upcoming season.
Over the course of the last three seasons, Roethlisberger has completed 63% of all of his third down pass attempts during the regular season. To put that percentage into better perspective, of the 23 quarterbacks who have attempted 250 or more third down passes over the course of the last three seasons, only 3 have a better completion percentage than Roethlisberger does. With that said, Brown was responsible for 40.9% of those Roethlisberger third down completions during that span of three seasons and Miller’s 12.5% was good enough for second place.
Running back Le’Veon Bell has caught 36 third down passes since coming into the league and hidden in that number is the fact that he’s caught 78.3% of all passes thrown his direction. With him presumably set to return in 2016 after suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through the 2015 season, he will likely be asked to contribute heavily on third downs as well and perhaps even a little more than he has in the past.
After Bell went down injured last season Roethlisberger completed 47 of 77 third down passes in the Steelers final 8 regular season games. Brown and Miller combined to catch 31 of those 47 completed throws and the other 16 were spread around to five other players of which Martavis Bryant led the way with 6.