Perhaps the single most overlooked aspect of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s game is his ability to control and manipulate both sides of the field before the snap from the line of scrimmage. While he may draw some national attention for his ‘Dilly Dilly’ audible or shouting ‘butter butter’, the real star has been his cadence and timing and how he has used it to hurt defenses.
Already, the Steelers have gotten a number of boosts simply by Roethlisberger’s ability to coax the defense to jump offside, which, depending on the nature of the infraction, would either result simply in a free five yards or an opportunity to attempt a play without any risk.
There have been six defensive offside penalties already this season, starting with one against the Vikings in week two on a first-and-10 play. Roethlisberger was able to take a shot downfield to Martavis Bryant, with whom he connected for a 51-yard gain.
In that same game, the Steelers lined up to run a play on fourth and one about midway through the first quarter. Roethlisberger was able to get a defender across the line, who was flagged for encroachment, giving them a first down. That drive would end minutes later in a touchdown to Bryant.
Two weeks after that, in week four against the Ravens, Roethlisberger got a defensive lineman to jump offside on third and three, giving the offense a free first down. Later, on first and goal from the nine, he connected with Antonio Brown for eight yards on a play on which Terrell Suggs was caught offside.
A week later, against the Jaguars, facing a second and eight, he got Calais Campbell to jump offside. He took a shot to Brown, though it was incomplete. Still, it resulted in a free five yards, setting up a second and three to get them ahead of the chains, which they converted.
In the same game—on the same drive—he got them to jump offside a second time. Again, it resulted in an incompletion, but, again, the free five yards helped them get back in front of the chains on second and 10, and quickly converted for a new set of downs after that.
Two weeks passed before he was able to get Carlos Dunlap with an encroachment penalty as well. That infraction occurred on third and one, which resulted in another automatic, and free, first down, though they had to settle for a field goal. In that same game, Carl Lawson was flagged for neutral zone in fraction on third and three. And then so was Vontaze Burfict, turning a second and seven into second and two.
In just this past game, against the Titans, Roethlisberger got a defender to jump offside on third and eight. The first drive ended when Roethlisberger connected with Brown on a 41-yard touchdown pass because he had a free play due to a defender jumping offside, which occurred on second and 10.
In just 10 games, Roethlisberger’s pre-snap commands have helped bring out 11 pre-snap penalties by the defense for offsides, encroachment, or neutral zone infraction, several of which have generated a first down on third or fourth down, and two of which resulted in explosive plays, including a score. I think it’s fair to call that a weapon.