The Pittsburgh Steelers’ deep passing game has been…let’s say not great so far this season. To date, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has attempted 30 deep passes of 20 or more air yards. He has completed only nine of them for 318 yards, albeit while producing five touchdowns to one interception. Three additional incomplete attempts came on ‘free’ plays due to an offside penalty.
Another seven incompletions drew defensive pass interference penalties for a total of 141 additional yards, so that must be factored into the discussion about the Steelers’ deep passing game this season, it should be noted, so some of those could have been completed passes that went for even more yards, and possibly scores.
Roethlisberger is not coming off of one of his better games on the deep passes, as he connected on only one of them against the Dallas Cowboys for 31 yards, the touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster that traveled 23 air yards. He went 1-for-5 overall on deep pass attempts in the game. Two others were negated by non-interference penalties.
“I’m hoping that they are going to come in clumps”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said of the deep-ball connections. “They haven’t come per se on the percentages that we want to have, but it’s going to happen. I know that we have to continue to keep pushing the ball down the field. That’s the important thing. I believe we will get there. I do”.
According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger has been mediocre at best in comparison to the rest of the league on deep passes, ranking tied for 19th with 11 deep completions (their judgements on pass distance are slightly different from ours but we believe we’ve isolated the two completions on which we diverge) on 35 attempts (again, more than we have him down for) for 357 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions (once again, we have some disputes over what we consider 20-plus yards and we feel confident in our accuracy, but nevertheless, these are all passes at least 17-plus yards down the field by any measurement).
Regardless of the splitting of hairs above, suffice it to say that Roethlisberger has not been as sharp as he needs to be on deep passes—and to make it even worse, according to PFF, he has been the victim of just one dropped pass on deep balls. Only three quarterbacks with at least 30 deep pass attempts have had zero drops. His adjusted completion percentage of 34.3 ranks 28th among qualified quarterbacks.
But there is some good news. In the second half of the 2018 season, Roethlisberger completed 19 of 43 deep pass attempts for 730 yards and nine touchdowns to one interception with the 10th-highest adjusted completion percentage of 44.2. In the first half of the season, he completed only 11 of 44 attempts for 370 yards with six touchdowns to one interception and just a 27.3 adjusted completion percentage.