PFF Numbers Illustrate Ben Roethlisberger Has Been A Gunslinger Now And Forever

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a self-proclaimed gunslinger. When you hail from the school of John Elway and Brett Favre, you kind of know what to expect in that regard, though it’s fair to say that, on the whole, Roethlisberger has been more successful avoiding the negative plays than the latter two Hall of Famers.

Of course, the gunslinger approach comes with that boom-or-bust potential, which is why he led the league in both passing yards and interceptions in 2018, while setting a new franchise record in touchdown passes with 34.

In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger tied for the league lead last season in a category that they call ‘big-time throws’ on throws outside the numbers. To put it very simply, big-time throws primarily concern degree of difficulty, delivering accurate passes deep down the field or in narrow windows.

Based on their tracking, Roethlisberger, the Seattle SeahawksRussell Wilson, and the Cleveland BrownsBaker Mayfield all made 29 big-time throws on passes that were outside the numbers last season. Nobody else had more than 26 outside the numbers.

But this is nothing new. Also from Pro Football Focus, only Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints—who has throw for more yards and more scores than anybody in the history of the game—has more big-time throws since the site began tracking data in 2006, which obviously encompasses the vast majority of the careers of everybody currently in the league.

It should be noted that for Pro Football Focus, a big-time throw doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the target caught the ball. You could make a big-time throw that was dropped, so 29 big-time throws doesn’t mean 29 big-time completions. I can probably think of at least one deep pass that was dropped despite being delivered on the money.

Pretty much the only time in Roethlisberger’s entire career in which he really reeled himself in was at the beginning of Todd Haley’s six-year tenure as his offensive coordinator. It’s no coincidence that the 2012 and 2013 seasons represent the two lowest yards per attempt figures of his career—short of the Super Bowl season of 2008.

For his career, Roethlisberger averages 7.8 yards per attempt. Among qualified quarterbacks, that ranks as the ninth-highest of all time, tied with Bart Starr, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Johnny Unitas. Otto Graham far outpaces everybody else at 9.0 yards, with Sid Luckman second at 8.4 yards. Norm Van Brocklin, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, and Ed Brown fill in the remainder of the top 10—or really, the top 13.

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