One of the staples of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense under Ben Roethlisberger is the deep ball. While they can still move the ball around when the franchise quarterback is not on point in that phase, it’s clear that the offense runs the best and most efficient when they are able to feature that element of the game.
That was not the case yesterday, during which the 15-year veteran was regularly off the mark when he was looking for targets down the field. There were very few targets that traveled 15 yards in the air or more that were even catchable, though he did have a touchdown pass to Jesse James on an explosive play.
Roethlisberger attempted 14 passes of 15 or more yards in the air, officially classified as deep throws. Three of them went to James Washington, all of them incomplete, and all of them not even inbounds, if I recall correctly.
Antonio Brown was on the receiving end of five deep targets in the game, the result being just one catch for 19 yards, which came on their third drive in the first quarter and put the offense on the Chiefs’ 36-yard line. Chris Boswell would miss from the 31-yard line on a 49-yard field goal attempt.
The only player who actually had success with Roethlisberger on deep passes was tight end Jesse James, who had four catches of 20 yards or more in the game. Three of them were the result of deep passes, and on all three occasions, it began as a scramble drill when the play broke down. The rapport between the quarterback and tight end to know what the other wants to do is why that connection worked.
The planned deep ball in the game, however, was otherwise a disaster, and that was on Roethlisberger, a fact that he knows as well as anybody. He was asked about the inefficiency of the deep passing game after the contest, and he admitted to reporters, “I missed a couple”, said in a way that reflects a declaration of responsibility.
He followed up that remark by saying that he “talked to [offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner] pre-game. I thought my ball was moving a little bit right, and I have to do a much better job of keeping the ball in play down the right sideline”.
Roethlisberger was not successful with the deep ball in the season opener either, and it took him several games—really, half the season or more—before that part of his game really started to warm up. He did complete 39 of 60 passes for 452 yards and three scores on the day, but he knows how many plays he left out on the field, including open targets in the end zone.