The bread and butter of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is the short passing game. It doesn’t take a football savant to figure that out. By now, everybody in the game should know that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the shortest time to throw in the NFL, and when you’re firing the ball out faster than anybody else, you’re probably firing it out short a lot, too.
Even though it might not look like it produces the most efficient numbers in the world, it’s something that has, by and large, worked for the Steelers, because they’ve had playmakers who are able to make plays with the ball in their hands. But when you can’t get the ball in their hands, it’s a problem.
And sometimes that’s not always about their being able to simply catch the ball. Sometimes defenses just read plays well and respond to them. The Steelers like to use a lot of rub routes to free people open underneath. The Washington Football Team scouted this tendency well, which Roethlisberger noted after the game.
“We understand that people are going to bring guys down to take away some of the quick gains”, he told reporters following Monday’s game, which was their first loss of the season in week 13. “We need to make the plays over the top. We did some of that tonight, but not enough of it”.
The short passing game also dominated Roethlisberger’s franchise-best season in 2018 when he threw for team-record numbers with over 5000 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. But he was able to supplement that by connecting on a fair number of deep passes, especially as the season wore on.
So far in 2020, the deep passing game hasn’t really coalesced the way many expected to. That’s not all on Roethlisberger, however. Some of it can be accounted for by the high number of defensive pass interference penalties that they have drawn (they are at or near the top of the league, I believe).
But sometimes guys just aren’t finishing the plays—and when I mean guys, I’m talking primarily about rookie Chase Claypool, who burst onto the scene back in week two with an 84-yard deep touchdown, but since then has struggled to cleanly field many balls down the field. He has had a shot at a number of them that he failed to secure. Some weren’t clean, some weren’t drops, but they are plays that one can reasonably expect a player of his pedigree to make.
The good news is that the Steelers can still turn things around in the deep passing game, even this late in the season. It’s not as though all the pieces aren’t there. It’s just a matter of lining them up. The plays are there to be made. They just have to start making them.