If you think that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the football a lot this season, then, well…you’re right, he is. He is in fact throwing the ball more than effort at a rate that is unprecedented in Steelers history, and in fact in the history of most teams.
Not only does he currently hold a significant edge in total pass attempts during the 2018 season—his 472 pass attempts through 11 games is 25 more than Kirk Cousins in the number two spot, and 35 more than Andrew Luck at number three—he is also on-pace to throw the third-most passes in a season in NFL history.
Averaging 42.91 pass attempts per game, Roethlisberger is currently looking at attempting 687 passes this year if he completes a full 16-game schedule and does so at his current pace. His 56 pass attempts on Sunday against the Denver Broncos was only the second-most attempts he has had this season behind a 60-attempt game back in Week Two against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The NFL record for the most pass attempts in a single season belongs to Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, who attempted an absurd 727 passes during their 2012 season. To date, he is the only quarterback to go beyond the 700-pass mark.
The closest was Drew Bledsoe and his 691 pass attempts all the way back in 1994, which stands as a clear outlier, as his is the only season among the top 12 that has not come since 2010. He also had the 19th-most pass attempts—636—in 1995. Only Warren Moon’s 655 attempts in 1991 breaks up the consistency of the top 25 seasons all coming in roughly the past decade.
As for Roethlisberger, his hypothetical 687 pass attempts would place him third all-time behind the aforementioned Stafford campaign and Bledsoe’s 1994 season. He would become just the third quarterback in NFL history to attempt at least 680 passes in a single season.
And considering that the Steelers have a few potential shootouts remaining on their schedule with Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees (who own 12 of the top 25 seasons in terms of passing attempts), it’s reasonable to assume that Roethlisberger is going to have to keep slinging it.
Roethlisberger’s previous career-high in pass attempts was 608 back in 2014 when he played in all 16 games. He shared in the league lead in passing yardage that year with Brees in throwing for 4952 yards. Right now he is on-pace to record the first 5000-yard passing season in franchise history, currently looking at 5330 yards—which would also be the third-most all-time behind Peyton Manning’s 5477 in 2013 and Brees’ 5476 in 2011. Roethlisberger’s 4952 yards is the second-highest total since 2014. Matt Ryan is actually on pace for slightly more than him this year.
This is something of a footnote because I thought to look it up after the fact, but Roethlisberger is also on pace for the fourth-most completions with 454. Literally only Brees has thrown more in a single season, doing so three times, including 471 in 2016.