Through the first five games of the 2018 season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted 215 passes, en route to a career-high and league-leading 675 pass attempts on the season. At the same point in the 2020 season, Roethlisberger has only attempted 165 passes, dropping from 43 attempts per game to 33—a full 10 throws fewer per game.
The Steelers finished the 2018 season with the most pass attempts and the second-fewest rushing attempts. This year, in spite of the fact that a lot of teams still haven’t had their bye week, they actually rank 14th in rushing attempts, and are fifth in attempts per game, while they rank 26th in pass attempts per game.
“It gives us balance. That’s what we want to be”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters earlier today about the increase in carries from the last time he was primarily under center. “I know that’s what, if you read into any of the fans’ stuff and the media’s stuff in the offseason, we need to be more balanced, we need to run the ball. Well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re a balanced offense”.
They are, in actuality, one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL, averaging 33.2 pass attempts per game versus 31.8 rushing attempts per game. Their opponents next week, the Tennessee Titans, just so happen to be very similarly balanced.
But can they win in a shootout if they have to? They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and two Pro Bowl pass catchers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron, plus Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool among others.
“We’re not putting up gaudy passing numbers right now because we haven’t needed to”, Roethlisberger said. “I’d like to think that if needed to we could do that, because we’ve got some amazing pass catchers that can great things with the ball in their hands. But what we’ve been able to do right now is win football games, and that’s what’s most important”.
Of course, a big part of the reason that they have run the ball so much this season is that they have so often played with the lead. They have often, in fact, played with even two-possession leads, as they did for an entire 54 minutes on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. And it’s no surprise that they recorded 37 rushing attempts in that game compared to just 23 pass attempts.
But they are also running the ball because it’s working. They are producing 4.3 yards per carry on 159 rushing attempts, gaining 474 yards with seven touchdowns scored by three different players—including Chase Claypool.