Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger certainly didn’t have a great first half of the 2017 season as the veteran signal caller completed just 61.1% of all pass attempts on his way to having nearly as many interceptions (9) as he did touchdown passes (10). When going through Roethlisberger’s first half stats, it’s easy to see where his play has been lacking in two critical areas. One of those two areas is obvious while the other one might have been missed by many.
The obvious phase of Roethlisberger’s game so far this season that needs to be improved upon during the second half is his deep passing (passes thrown more than 15 yards in the air past the original line of scrimmage). In the Steelers first 8 regular season games Roethlisberger has completed just 25 of his 73 deep pass attempts (34.2%) for 790 yards. It’s also worth noting that 6 of his 9 total interceptions this season have come via deep pass attempts and 4 of those came during his five-interception game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With the obvious needed area of improvement for Roethlisberger now out of the way, let’s move on to the less obvious area and that’s his passing on makeable third downs.
In the Steelers first 8 regular season games of 2017 Roethlisberger has attempted 27 total pass attempts when the offense was facing third down and between 3 and 6 yards to go. He completed just 13 of those pass attempts and his completion percentage of 48.1% is currently second-worst in the league when compared to all other quarterbacks that have attempted more than 15 such passes on that down and that distance span. In case you’re curious, only Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has lower completion percentage (37.5%) of the 29 qualifying players.
Of those 14 third and manageable pass incompletions that Roethlisberger has had so far this season, his deep pass infectiveness has reared its ugly head in them. In fact, Roethlisberger is currently 0-4 on deep pass attempts when throwing on third downs with 3 to 6 yards to go. His other 10 incompletions, however, were deemed shorter throws. One of those 10 incompletions needs to be defended, however, as that particular short pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown was actually seemingly caught before being stripped away by Baltimore Ravens safety Eric Weddle for an interception. I’m sure that all of you still remember that play.
One other short pass on a third and manageable play this season that wound up in the wrong hands came in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. If you remember, that quick slant to Brown on a 3rd down and 5 play included the wide receiver hesitating during his route and Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters was effectively given a gift interception as a result of that.
So, should we expect improvement from Roethlisberger in third down and manageable passing situations during the second half of the 2017 season? It’s hard to say for sure but when you look back at his second half of season games played in dating back to 2013, history tells us that we should.
From 2013 to 2016, Roethlisberger has completed 59.7% of all third down passes (119 attempts) when facing 3 to 6 yards to go with 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Additionally, 49.6% of those attempted passes resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. While that conversion rate isn’t eye-popping, it’s 5% better than the conversion rate he posted in the team’s first 8 games of 2017 when facing third down and 3 to 6 yards to go.