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Contextualizing Ben Roethlisberger’s 2020 Deep Throws (How Good Was He?)

Pulling a Dave Bryan here with the contextualization articles. Throughout all of this past season, we harped on Ben Roethlisberger and the lack of a vertical Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game. A total lack of that and a run game were the two driving reasons for the offenses struggles and the team’s December/January collapse.

With some new data, we can put Roethlisberger’s struggles into greater context. Kudos to Johnny Kinsley for doing the legwork and releasing numbers on QB throws of 21+ air yards last season. It should come as no surprise Ben Roethlisberger didn’t fair very well.

Here are his stats on such throws: 18/58 for 617 yards, 10 TDs and 3 INTs. 13 of his incompletions were broken up by the DB and two of them were dropped INTs. Kinsley’s adjusted accuracy percentage has Roethlisberger at 39.7%, 26th in the league. The QBs below him are guys like Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Jared Goff. Not great.

To the sliver of good in that data. Roethlisberger’s ten touchdowns were tied for fourth most of any quarterback, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes. Impressive company to be sitting right behind. But the rest of the data isn’t kind. Roethlisberger simply didn’t connect often enough and the deep ball failures hamstrung the offense.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. His 58 attempts were sixth most in football. To be fair, Roethlisberger threw a lot in general. He would’ve led the league in total attempts had he played Week 17. But a lack of deep balls wasn’t the offenses problem despite the narrative the Steelers’ offense was “dink and dunk” and failed to take enough chances. They just weren’t good at it and it’s one area that must improve for Pittsburgh to have a chance next season.

It’s also worth noting newly signed QB Dwayne Haskins appears at the bottom of this list. His adjusted accuracy metric was a paltry 7/22 which is somehow an improvement over his actual completion rate where he went a how-are-you-this-bad 3/22. And the dude had Terry McLaurin to throw to, one of football’s fastest receivers. Haskins threw more INTs (4) than he had completions (3). Haskins does have a live arm but he doesn’t know how or where to aim it.

Hopefully we can circle back to these numbers this time next season and see clear improvement in this area of Roethlisberger’s game. But he hasn’t been a great deep ball thrower for several years so there isn’t much optimism things will change.

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