While there are those who completely dismiss anything that Pro Football Focus has to say just as a matter of course, there are also those such as myself who pick and choose the data that they see as possessing some level of value, taking their work with a grain of salt but acknowledging when they have a point.
The site recently published a piece reflecting upon one area in which each team could improve upon from the previous season, and I do happen to like the topic chosen for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Linsey writes that one of the struggles the team had last season was Ben Roethlisberger’s accuracy on downfield passes, from 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and beyond.
Ben Roethlisberger posted the most passing yards and touchdowns of his career in 2018, but that came on the back of a league-high 675 pass attempts. His playmakers shouldered a large load as well, as the 2,844 yards after the catch for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season were the most of any team since PFF’s inception in 2006. The truth is that Roethlisberger struggled in 2018 more than he had in previous seasons with ball location, particularly downfield. Of the passes he threw 10 or more yards downfield, 41.4% of them were uncatchable, which was better than only Ryan Tannehill, Mitchell Trubisky, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen among qualifying quarterbacks. In all, just 42.4% of his passes were considered accurate (26th).
There’s some nuance in there that I predict will be debated on the comments (“who are they to say what’s uncatchable or accurate?”, for example), but I think the core point is there for discussion. If the Steelers can get better downfield accuracy, it would add (or rather improve) another dimension of their offense.
One of the issues with the vertical passing game last season on very deep passes (20 yards or more) had to do with unfamiliarity with his targets, as he had a number of errant passes in the direction of James Washington, for example.
I think both accuracy and decision-making have to be discussed here, because Roethlisberger also has a tendency to try to excessively anticipate on long throws when he is under pressure, hoping that his target is going to be there by the time the ball arrives.
When everything is going smoothly and the play runs without a hitch, Roethlisberger is still among the best deep-ball passers in the game, but there’s a reason so much yardage was put up after the catch last season. And I do think we should see greater success in this department in 2019.