Is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph throwing a greater number of short passes this season than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did last season? That was a question I was asked recently via an email, so I thought it was worth researching now that the Steelers 2019 regular season is at the halfway point.
Perhaps the best way to answer the above question is to look at the pass distances of both quarterbacks via percentages because after all, Rudolph has only played the equivalent of five games this season while Roethlisberger played the first eight last season. Roethlisberger, by the way, attempted 346 total pass attempts through eight games played last season while Rudolph has attempted just 165 passes so far this season.
The table of data below should be self-explanatory and now we’ll review it. The data also comes courtesy of Sport Info Solutions as they do a great job of charting such.
So far this season, 36.4% of Rudolph’s total pass attempts have been throws that never crossed the original line of scrimmage. The passing yardage on those 50 completed passes was 232 yards, which is 21.3% of his total passing yards on the season. As for Roethlisberger last season through eight games, just 24.3% of his total pass attempts never crossed the line of scrimmage and the 360 yards gained on those 59 completions was 14.1% of his total passing yards at the time.
While Rudolph has thrown a higher percentage of passes this season that never crossed the line of scrimmage than Roethlisberger did through eight games played last season, the two quarterbacks had nearly the same percentage of total attempts that traveled five or less yards past the line of scrimmage. While the table does not include those combined shorter distances, Rudolph’s percentage comes in at 58.2% while Roethlisberger through eight games played last season was at 57.5%.
To sum up the last two paragraphs of stats, Roethlisberger attempted a higher percentage of longer short passes through eight games played last season than Rudolph has so far this season.
As you can see in the table of stats below, Rudolph and Roethlisberger both attempted roughly about the same percentage of throws 16 or more yards past the line of scrimmage. Not surprisingly, Rudolph, who actually has the higher percentage of deep throws, has completed a slightly lower percentage of those than Roethlisberger did through eight games played last season. Roethlisberger also posted a higher percentage of on-target throws of 16 or more yards down the field through eight games played last season than Rudolph has so far this season.
The real difference between Rudolph and Roethlisberger as far as these passing distance stats go is 6 to 15 yards down the field area. Only 23% of Rudolph’s pass attempts have gone that distance this season with 52.6% of them being completed. Roethlisberger, on the other, had 26.3% of all attempts through the first eight games last season travel that distance with 56% of those 91 attempts being completed.
Now is the time to point out that Roethlisberger worked with a much worse staring field position average last season through eight games than Rudolph has in the equivalent of the five games he’s played in this season. Roethlisberger also had a 43 attempt per game average in the first eight games of 2018 while Rudolph has a roughly a per game attempt average of 33.
Obviously, this data below does not show down or distance and game situations, so it does lack a lot of context. Regardless, it should give everyone a better snapshot of air distances and effectiveness when it comes to comparing Rudolph this season to Roethlisberger through eight games last season.
As I wrote after the 2018 season, Roethlisberger was a dink-and-dunk king in his first year with Randy Fichtner as the Steelers offensive coordinator. Rudolph is obviously following that same plan this season. It will now be interesting to see if Rudolph can start showing improvement in distances such as 6 to 10 yards and 11 to 15 yards. He’ll also need to slightly improve his deep pass completion percentage just as Roethlisberger did during the second half of last season.