For the majority of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career, and more specifically the team’s offense as a whole, there has always been the criticism that they are good between the 20s, but inside the red zone, and on third down, they haven’t been able to get the job done on a consistent basis.
That hasn’t exactly been an issue this year, as the Steelers are among the best in the league in both categories, as we have discussed a few times as the data points pile up with more games played. In fact, when it comes down to third-down conversion rate, they are second in the league, and only just barely.
The Steelers have converted 31 of 63 third-down opportunities for a 49.2 percent conversion rate. The only team that has been more efficient thus far is the Cowboys, who have converted on 31 of 62 opportunities, for an exact 50 percent conversion rate.
So, I wanted to take a closer look at the numbers this year, particularly as it relates to the passing game, to see what they might have to say about how the Steelers have performed on the most critical down. Partially because there’s not much interesting to say about the running game.
Pittsburgh has run the ball only nine times on third down on non-penalty snaps, converting four times, but it should be noted that three of those non-conversions were draws on third and 15-plus. Another was on third and five. On plays with four yards or fewer to go, they have converted four of five opportunities.
On 52 third-down designed passing plays, excluding penalties and scrambles, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 32 of 50 pass attempts for 526 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions, averaging 10.52 yards per attempt. Factoring in the two sacks he has taken, the average per play dips to 9.85, but he has also successfully converted via scrambles twice.
More to the point, Roethlisberger has completed 26 of those 50 pass attempts for first downs, meaning that when he has thrown the ball, he has been able to move the sticks more than half the time. Factoring in sacks, scrambles, and penalties on passing plays, the Steelers have converted on 30 of 56 passing opportunities.
The Steelers’ average third-down scenario featured a yards-to-go challenge of 6.8 per 70 opportunities, including all pre-snap penalties, either positive or negative. Now the fun question: who has been doing the damage? Let’s take a look at some specific targets.
Antonio Brown is the obvious player to start with. Roethlisberger has targeted him on third down 19 times, including penalties. He has caught nine of 17 non-penalties passes (with two drops), producing a first down on all nine catches, with one touchdown.
The second-most numerous target has been Sammie Coates, having been targeted 11 times. He caught nine of those targets (one drop), with eight of them producing first downs, with two touchdowns. Eli Rogers’ six targets yielded four completions and three conversions.
Markus Wheaton has gone one-for-two with a drop, but the one was a 30-yard score. Darrius Heyward-Bey was also one-for-two with a drop, but the one was a 31-yard score. Jesse James has caught two of four targets with no drops for one conversion. DeAngelo Williams caught five of seven targets with no drops, but only two resulted in conversions. Xavier Grimble’s one target was a conversion.
Amazingly, Le’Veon Bell has not been targeted yet on first down. Also an interesting note, four of Roethlisberger’s five fourth-down pass attempts went to Brown, with three completions and two conversions with a touchdown and an interception. The other target went to Rogers for a successful conversion.