As it turns out, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likes to throw to people when they’re open. And he’s also really good at it. Like, one of the very best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
The outlet certainly received its share of criticism, and rightfully so in some cases, but some of the data that they track is really quite interesting, even if there is some room for debate with respect to its subjectivity level.
One of the things they track that I appreciate is quarterback accuracy, where they judge a pass’s accuracy based on where it ‘hits’ the target. Obviously if a wide receiver has to make an exceptional play on the ball to finish the reception, the quarterback most likely could have done a much better job unless it was designed that way (such as a desperation throw in tight coverage).
But Roethlisberger not only got to throw a lot of passes to open receivers, he also did it with great accuracy. According to PFF, his 333 pass attempts to open targets was the highest in the NFL, and he completed 293 of those passes for 3290 of his 5000-plus passing yards, as well as 20 of his 34 touchdown passes.
78.2 percent of those passes—whether caught or not—were deemed to be ‘accurate’ throws, which was the second-best in all of the NFL on passes to open targets, with only Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers posting a better accuracy percentage of 78.7 percent. I would normally quote the blurb from the article here, but I pretty much already summarized what it said.
For those wondering, PFF defines an open throw as generally a target having two or more steps of separation when targeted. In the past, in a Steelers offense, such attempts would probably have been expected to be throws made after avoiding a pass rusher and the coverage breaking down, but the group has become much more rhythmic and timing-oriented in recent years, to the point at which Roethlisberger actually has one of the shortest time-to-throw numbers in the league. In fact, he, Rivers, and Drew Brees all tied for the lowest time to throw of 2.47 seconds.
He may not have been listed in the top five in accuracy on tight-window throws—according to their QB Annual, he actually ranked 22nd in tight-window throws, perhaps a product of forcing passes to Antonio Brown—but he’s certainly never been shy about attempting them, either, and he still creates the occasional big moment with his gun-slinging attitude.
Another interesting bit about Roethlisberger according to their QB Annual is that his weakest depth of target last season was the intermediate region between 10 and 19 yards, where his accuracy was over six percent lower than the league average. At all other distances, he was either higher or was within a statistically insignificant range lower.