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Charting Steelers’ Third And Short Passing Last Season

Late last week, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton made explicit a fairly obvious trend to anybody who had paid attention to the team’s offense last season, saying in an interview that “Ben [Roethlisberger] loves the deep ball obviously on third and short when the defense is least expecting [it]”, as Dave Bryan wrote about on Sunday.

The topic drew some discussion, as it did during the season. I first wrote about it as early as Week Two, during which the Steelers attempted seven deep passes on third down, resulting in five explosive plays, though only two of them were in third and short situations.

I wrote about the third-and-short deep passing in late October, noting how the production in that performance suffered without Roethlisberger. In December, Todd Haley explained that the reason he and Roethlisberger liked to throw deep was because it is the position in which defenses are in their most predictable coverage.

Dave took a look at some examples late in the season, but I thought it would be useful to flush out the full table of statistics as it pertains to Roethlisberger’s third and short deep passing last year, starting with charting each of those examples.

WEEK – OPP DOWN DIST TARGET NET YARDS PASS DIS DROP DETAILS
1 – NE 3 3 84 0 19 N Incomplete
1 – NE 3 3 11 0 23 N Incomplete
2 – SF 3 2 11 48 46 N Complete
2 – SF 3 3 84 56 43 N Complete – Offside
8 – CIN 3 2 84 15 15 N Complete
9 – Oak 3 3 84 0 33 N Incomplete
10 – CLE 3 2 84 29 30 N Incomplete – Interference
12 – SEA 3 3 10 0 34 N Incomplete
12 – SEA 3 2 84 5 36 N Incomplete – Offside
12 – SEA 3 1 10 0 51 Y-10 Incomplete – Dropped
13 – IND 3 3 10 68 28 N Complete – Touchdown
14 – CIN 3 1 11 31 24 N Complete
17 – CLE 3 2 88 66 47 N Complete
18 – CIN 3 2 84 0 19 N Incomplete

There were, in total, 14 attempted passes of at least 15 yards on third downs with three or fewer yards to go thrown by Roethlisberger last season, two of them coming on plays that ultimately were wiped out due to penalty.

Thus, officially, there were 12 deep pass attempts on third and short last season. Roethlisberger completed six of those passes for a total of 284 yards and one touchdown. It is worth noting that one of those six incompletions we marked in our charting as a dropped pass, and we are pretty conservative in marking passes as drops.

As stated earlier, there were two additional pass attempts on third and short. The first was an incomplete pass that occurred on a free play due to a defensive offside penalty on which Roethlisberger decided to take a shot. Another shot on a free play earlier in the season connected for 56 yards. The other penalty was a pass interference that resulted in a 29-yard mark-off for the offense.

In all, then, Roethlisberger’s third-and-short passing produced 313 yards including penalties on 13 pass attempts, with one drop, plus an additional deep shot that had no repercussions due to the defensive penalty. The team gained an average of 22 yards on these 13 plays, converting seven first downs.

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