Not only did Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw three interceptions during the team’s Week 1 tie game against the Cleveland Browns, he also fumbled away the football twice via strip sacks. On Tuesday, Roethlisberger was asked about those two sack-fumbles during his morning interview on 93.7 The Fan and if he thought maybe he held onto the football too long on either of them. While the Steelers quarterback went on to break down both plays, his description of the first one is the one I want to focus on in this post.
“Well, actually one of them was a run/pass option. The first one was run/pass option and I gave JuJu [Smith-Schuster] a hand signal to do something different than what he was supposed to do,” Roethlisberger said. “And it’s still quick. I mean, I know that there’s no blocking, so it’s not like I’m sitting there holding the ball and on that particular one, that snap was low left and so I had to stop it and then once I picked it up to throw it, it wasn’t like I was holding onto the ball.
“If you watched the film, the second I stopped the ball, I picked it up and threw it. It wasn’t like I patted it, I waited, I took a drop, it was catch and throw. So, there was nothing we could have done. It’s just one of those untimely situations you have, which is unfortunate because if the snap, if we don’t have that issue, then the ball is gone and JuJu’s going to be open. It’s probably gonna be a really big play. So, that’s just an unfortunate one and Al’s not blocking Miles [Garrett] on that play in terms of pass blocking. So, like I said, it’s unfortunate it happened on that play.”
Below, you can see that trap RPO gone wrong from two different angles. You’ll notice that guard David DeCastro pulls from right to left at the snap of the football while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva blocks down to the inside. This run blocking action easily lets you know it was an RPO.
While Roethlisberger said during Tuesday’s radio interview that he gave wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster a hand signal to do something different on that play, he was likely meaning fellow wide receiver Justin Hunter as he ran a quick slant from the outside and underneath Smith-Schuster, who was running a slot fade route. Hunter, as you can see in the all-22 view, is open on the play, while Smith-Schuster appears to be covered well.
Roethlisberger, however, was right when he said that had he been able to field the snap cleanly and quickly gotten rid of the football that a big play likely happens. If you remember, Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster on a deep slot fade pass down the right side in the first quarter and going the opposite direction. That play, however was on a third down and a pure pass play run out of an empty set.
On top of that first quarter big play to the Smith-Schuster, the young wide receiver also registered a 67-yard catch and run in the third quarter via a slant route he ran out of the right slot. That play was also a trap RPO run out of a slightly different formation with slightly different route combinations. Below is the all-22 of that successful trap RPO and it’s obvious that Roethlisberger was hoping for a repeat of it on the failed fourth quarter one that resulted in a sack/fumble.
While Roethlisberger didn’t mention it on Tuesday, after fielding the bad snap from center Maurkice Pouncey, he would have likely been better served to quickly hand the ball off to running back James Conner as there likely would have been a huge running lane to the left thanks to Browns defensive end Myles Garrett going so far up the edge at the snap of the football.