One of the qualities of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game through the early portions of the 2017 season that I admit I have found rather baffling is the fact that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has seemingly not been very interested in trying to spread the football around.
The Steelers might have the deepest group of pass-catchers that Roethlisberger has ever had throughout his career, among all skill positions, yet he only even targeted five different players on Sunday, as an example.
Going back to my charting notes that I put up on Thursday, Roethlisberger threw 42 passes, including those negated by penalties, targeting just five different players. This is the fewest number of unique targets in a single game that I have charted.
Between Antonio Brown (15) and Martavis Bryant (10), 25 of his 42 targets, or 57 percent, went to just two players. Le’Veon Bell saw seven targets for himself, while JuJu Smith-Schuster saw six, and the remaining four went to Jesse James.
No targets for any other running back, of course, because the only other snap on offense between both James Conner and Terrell Watson was a three-yard carry by the latter on third and one. Conner only played on special teams.
No targets for Xavier Grimble, nor Vance McDonald, the former the team seemingly regarding more as a receiving tight end than a blocker, the latter coming into the organization with a reputation for making big plays, despite the taint of drops next to his name.
No targets for Eli Rogers, who last year finished second behind Antonio Brown in virtually all receiving statistics of consequence a year ago. He saw a fair amount of playing time on offense—around a third of the team’s offensive snaps—yet the ball never even came his way a single time.
And it goes without saying that Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has seen three snaps on offense to date, has not been targeted, nor has Roosevelt Nix, the fullback. While these are not surprising, that the Steelers could come out of a game with just five players being targeted—let alone five players with a catch—is odd.
This is supposed to be a deep and talented roster on the offensive side of the ball, a supposition that is eroded by the appearance put forth by such a tight concentration of players who actually participate in the passing game.
Let’s just look at the Steelers’ opponents for a quick comparison. The Steelers completed passes to six different players on Sunday, and 11 different players have caught passes on the season. Against the Vikings, Roethlisberger completed passes to six targets while Case Keenum did so to seven, and to eight on the year. DeShone Kizer completed to eight different targets in the opener while Roethlisberger completed to five, and 12 have caught a pass on the season for the Browns.
Only six players have caught a pass for Pittsburgh to date this season. That might well be the least diverse assemblage of targets of all teams so far.