The deep ball just has not been there the way that it normally is for the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. while the inordinate number of defensive pass interference penalties drawn can account for some of what is viewed as a deficiency, the reality is that their numbers are down from what has been the typical tally under Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
To date, with two games to play, the Steelers have completed just 20 passes thrown 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He had 30 such passes, for more than 1000 yards and 15 touchdowns, in his last full season in 2018. He had 24 in 15 games in 2017, for nearly 900 yards. The year before that, he had 33. In 2015, in just 12 games, he had 28. Yet this year, he has just 610 yards on deep passes, his lowest total since 2012, a year in which he attempted just 47 deep passes.
So where are the Steelers on that front this year? Roethlisberger has attempted 70 deep passes, five of which have gone for interceptions (versus nine touchdowns). Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner says that it’s being worked on.
“We threw deep balls yesterday”, he told reporters on Thursday. “Ben is coming back out today, and we will work through that one more time and he will throw more again tomorrow. I don’t worry about the deep ball, but you have to complete a few. There’s a fine line between do you throw it up and allow a guy to get past someone and catch it in stride, or do you give them a jump ball”.
The Steelers have two primary deep passing targets, with rookie Chase Claypool leading the way with 25 deep targets. Both James Washington and Diontae Johnson have 14, but it makes up a far larger percentage of the former’s total number of targets.
“I know he has a pretty good feel for games because he has thrown a lot of down the field balls to James, and James is that guy that has great vertical leaps, has great body control”, Fichtner said. “You probably don’t want to overthrow him because I don’t know that last step will be there to finish the play, but Chase, he has that last step”.
“Sometimes those balls need to be fired out there and even if you are going to go, ‘oh, almost’, because those are the ones he is going to go get, and when they get that final timing together you are going to see some big plays”, the offensive coordinator continued. “We have to do it. We have to do it, because you always heard me talk about it…The down the field balls we have to keep working on, and we are. Hopefully, we make those come alive this week”.
Unfortunately, the Steelers have talked a lot about working on things during the week that are in need of improvement, only to fail to demonstrate that improvement in the ensuing weeks, so I can’t blame anybody lacking confidence in a turnaround in this area.