Ben Roethlisberger talked as recently as last season about being a gunslinger and embracing everything that that term implies, letting the ball fly down the field and giving his players an opportunity to go make plays. In reality, the numbers don’t really back that up.
Even going back to his franchise-record season in 2018, when he threw for over 5000 yards and for 34 touchdowns, his average depth of target was among the shallowest in the NFL, and the percentage of his yards gained after the catch among the highest. The story is the same this season, with the main difference being that he isn’t throwing as frequently, largely because he hasn’t had to.
It’s been obvious. To everyone. To the Steelers, to their opponents, to the announcers. And when Maurkice Pouncey appeared on Inside Access on Tuesday, he was asked about this observations and what his take on it was.
“I totally agree with that”, he said. “I also think, with Ben playing in this system so long, he’s so comfortable. He sees things in a different aspect as far as the play-calling. He knows that when they’re in a certain zone for a certain coverage, he knows how to attack that certain thing”.
“Ben’s an unselfish player”, he added. “It doesn’t matter who gets the ball. Whoever’s open, that’s who he’s going to throw it to. I think he’s grown in that aspect, and as an offensive lineman, you can appreciate it, because the ball is out of his hands pretty fast”.
Through the first five games, the Steelers had five players who were targeted between 24 and 28 times on the season, who had something like 13 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. Their plan in the last game was to feed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson pretty heavily, so they added to their separation in the target totals, but the general principle is the same, which is that they move the ball around and do it quickly.
Roethlisberger actually lowered his season-best time-to-throw figure, the fastest in the NFL, against the Titans, during which he attempted a season-high 49 pass attempts, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the number of short passes that he threw.
This is not an offense that is necessarily going to hit a lot of homerun balls, but they have one that can keep the chains moving and eat up time of possession. That have a level of familiarity with one another that is strong enough to help them win in situational football through timing, which is one of the reasons they’re putting up 30 points per game.