It is not that often that the Pittsburgh Steelers can have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw just 18 passes and still handily win that game. At least, it’s not often anymore. Roethlisberger has thrown 20 passes or fewer on 27 occasions over the course of his career, but the vast majority of them are limited to early in his tenure.
And it is not often not because it has been rare for the Steelers to win such games, but rather because it simply doesn’t happen very often. Of course, you can deduce that the Steelers have required Roethlisberger to throw the ball more often in recent years in order for the team to win said games, resulting in him very rarely throwing so few passes.
Including Sunday’s performance, Roethlisberger has only thrown 20 or fewer passes in a game just four times since the 2008 season. He did that four times during the 2008 season, and 12 times during the course of his first two years—19 times in his first four seasons, and 23 times in his first five. Four times since then.
Interestingly, two of those games game this season. Aside from Sunday’s victory, Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 pass attempts for 221 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against the Colts.
He had not done that in a game since the 2012 season before that. And he did it once that year, and once in the previous year. They won all of those games. As a matter of fact, the only game the Steelers have lost in a contest in which he attempted 20 or fewer passes was the first one he ever played in, which he was an injury replacement mid-game against the Ravens in his rookie season in 2004.
Every other time Roethlisberger has had the opportunity to throw infrequently in a game, it has universally correlated with a Steelers victory—and very often a comfortable one.
Indeed, Sunday’s game had a bit of an early Roethlisberger feel to it, and the Steelers’ offense is beginning to look more and more like that. It was dominated by a very good offensive line, supplemented by a very good running game, and that is the identity that the team has been adopting for themselves over the course of the past few months.
Since then, Roethlisberger’s pass attempts have been on the decline. In his first eight games, the only one in which he attempted fewer than 34 passes was the blowout against the Chiefs. He attempted at least 44 passes four times. Since then, the highest number of pass attempts he has had in a game has been 36.
Obviously, that has coincided with the Steelers running the ball with much greater frequently with Le’Veon Bell. A great deal of the load has been taken off of Roethlisberger’s shoulders, or at least shared, and the team has been better off for it. But when he has to throw it to win it, he is still more than capable of doing so.