While much has been written about Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 season—both the good and the bad—one facet that I believe has not been touched on enough is the emerging, or perhaps re-emerging prevalence and success of the long ball not just on his game, but in the offense as a whole.
That was especially the case during last season, when Roethlisberger led the league by averaging 328.2 yards per game. While he only finished with just under 4000 yards for the season, he missed more than a quarter of the year, and had he remained fully healthy he would have become one of a small handful of players to throw for over 5000 yards in a season.
According to Pro Football Focus, in spite of all of the time that he missed, Roethlisberger still finished third in the league in terms of yards accrued through the air via ‘long’ passes, defined as traveling through the air for at least 20 yards.
Of Roethlisberger’s 3938 total yards thrown last season, a full 1170 of them came on deep throws 20 yards or more down the field. That accounts for just under 30 percent of his total yardage, which I am willing to wager was among the highest ratio in the league.
Drew Brees finished second on the list with 1180 yards on deep throws, but he himself threw for nearly 5000 yards, reducing his total percentage. Blake Bortles led the league in yards gained via the deep pass, totaling 1330 yards on such throws, and he finished the season with 4428 total passing yards.
Bortles’ total percentage of production via the long ball was slightly higher than Roethlisberger’s, but the cumulative production per game is obviously less so. Roethlisberger missed a full four games, and significant stretches of three other games. Even taking the 1170 yards as a product of three-quarters of a full season’s work, he could have produced 1560 yards via the deep passing game over a full season.
Now, when speaking about his ability to replicate that production, it is fair to point out that the Steelers will be without arguably their biggest deep threat, Martavis Bryant, but the additions of Sammie Coates, who was a virtual non-contributor as a rookie, and free agent Ladarius Green, will work to offset that.
It is important to emphasize that Roethlisberger’s work on the long ball was not only productive, but also proficient, as he was accurate on more than half of all of his deep targets over the course of the season, which is a significant figure on such throws for any quarterback.
Despite missing more than a quarter of the season, nobody matched Roethlisberger’s 17 completed passes of 40 yards or more. Though that also includes passes that traveled less than 20 yards in the air, it gives an indication as to how the deep passing game went for him last year.