Over the course of the 2017 regular season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a total of 1060 snaps, factoring in everything, including no-plays, pre-snap penalties, two-point conversion attempts, etc. he only lined up under center for 295 of those plays, or 27.8 percent of the time.
This data is taken from our own charting, which we spend hours upon hours of doing every single season. While he is probably an example of the extreme end, however, he is a representative of the fact that NFL offenses are slowly moving away from prioritization of playing under center, for all the ails and ills that provides.
The reasons for this, both generally and specifically for the Steelers, are many. Globally, it is more representative of the game at the college level, and is as it has been for years. More players, and more coaches, that have been used to that style make up the NFL’s physical and mental talent than in the past.
Shotgun snaps also are of preference to offenses who primarily pass the football, which is nearly every team in nearly every season at this point, with occasional exceptions. Ben Volin provided data on the number of passes thrown by all quarterbacks in 2017 from the shotgun, and 24 of them threw at least 300 passes. The full-time starter who used it least frequently was Brian Hoyer before he was benched.
It’s funny to think that not long ago we used to make a big deal about college QBs and whether they can take a snap from under center.
Roethlisberger threw 503 of his 561 passes from the shotgun last year. Brady 425 of his 581 attempts. pic.twitter.com/rCmQ6Qp7ZD
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) February 26, 2018
Regarding Pittsburgh in particular, it is relatively easy to gather that Roethlisberger prefers to play out of the shotgun, which is likely at least in part a product of getting older and losing mobility. Playing in the shotgun means you don’t have to turn your back to the defense when you drop back to pass or hand off.
Of course, that’s less of a problem when you are actually handing the ball off. Including no-play runs, Roethlisberger was under center for 208 runs in 2017. But he was in the shotgun for 175, or greater than 45 percent of the Steelers’ running plays with Roethlisberger on the field, which is significant.
Of all dropbacks, he was in the shotgun on 566 plays. He was only under center for 61 passing plays, or less than 10 percent.
The drawback of the shotgun pass is that it makes it more difficult to sell the play-action pass, even if that has fallen out of favor in the Steelers’ offense for whatever reason—presumably, because Roethlisberger doesn’t care to do it a great deal, roughly 10 percent, among the very lowest in the league.
He ran play action 65 times in 2017, 23 of which did come from the shotgun. And admittedly he was pretty effective using it, too, completing 16 of 20 non-penalty pass attempts for 164 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
From under center, he only completed 12 of 26 non-penalty pass attempts for 108 yards, though with two touchdowns. Two of his incompletions were drops, however, and he threw two passes away. He was sacked four times and scrambled twice.