Ben Roethlisberger has had six balls batted down at the line of scrimmage so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus, which is tied for the most in the NFL. That’s an average of one per game, which is elevated to say the least, and certainly outside of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s norm.
Despite throwing an NFL-high 675 passes in 2018, for example, he only had seven batted balls on the year. He did have 11 the year before that, but that was a statistical aberration—he had just four in 2016, for example, and five in 2015.
After having two passes batted on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, one of which resulted in an interception, reporters have begun to raise concerns about defensive linemen getting a hand on Roethlisberger’s balls this year, but the big man did not share those concerns. “We’re not too alarmed with it yet”, he told reporters yesterday.
His offensive coordinator and golfing buddy, Randy Fichtner, in his own words, would “share the non-concern about it” when speaking to reporters earlier today, via a transcript that was provided by the team’s media department.
“Obviously when it’s tipped and picked like it was last week, it becomes a bit more highlighted”, he said. “Many times a ball will get batted here or there any time you jump up pretty well. I think one of the things that we’ve done a pretty good job of is protecting. When you do a good job of protecting, maybe they say, ‘get up’, and try to eyeball when they see his arm start motion and just decide that they are going to try and jump and that type of thing”.
Roethlisberger also talked about the protection and his quick release as a possible reason that defensive linemen were being more active—or seemingly so—in getting their arms up into his throwing lanes this season.
“I look at it, and I told him that I don’t think you were staring down any particular route too long”, Fichtner said in attempting to bat down one common reason, which is to focus on one direction, letting the defender know where the ball is going to go.
“You’re really good about trying not to stare down a pattern, especially somewhere where he wants to throw”, he went on. “I know that’s part of the game, and some players do it better than others from the perspective of batted balls and timing and other things like that. I don’t see a pattern. I don’t see an alarm area in any of the things we are doing or that Ben is doing”.
I admit it is a bit early to jump the gun. Six batted passes in the first six games is bad, but it doesn’t mean a recurring issue. It could be a statistical anomaly. Nevertheless, it is something that the team needs to be more aware of going forward and to work on eliminating.