The Pittsburgh Steelers will have future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center for at least one more season, and at least according to what they say publicly, his receivers are happy about it, and question the criticism that he receives—particularly about his arm strength.
Second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool was asked about this earlier today during an NFL Network interview at Steelers practice. “He looks great. He’s putting the ball where it needs to be, and that’s all you can ever ask for”, he said.
“I’ve never really understood why people always question his arm strength. I don’t think he’s ever displayed in a game where his arm strength was an issue. His timing’s so good, even if his arm strength wasn’t where it was, his timing’s so good, he could time it up to where he doesn’t have to throw a bullet into a tight gap”.
When it comes to Roethlisberger, it wasn’t ever actually a question of arm strength, with respect to the distance and velocity on his deep passes. Particularly last season, it was more about placement, and he did have major struggles in that area a year ago.
There is optimism that it could be better this season, now more than a full year removed from major surgery on his throwing elbow. Roethlisberger did talk about it a bit earlier in training camp, questioning now if he really felt as good in 2020 as he thought he did, compared to now.
Overall, Alex Kozora’s training camp reports on his deep passes have skewed toward the positive, but of course he conducts a limited practice schedule, so he’s not necessarily getting extensive work in. He only practices about half of the time, going full, half, and off in cycle.
Last season, Claypool caught 10 deep passes on 32 targets for 376 yards and five touchdowns, of which only 77 came after the catch. He is credited with two drops on deep targets according to Pro Football Focus, but you still want to be better than even 12 out of 32.
The site has Roethlisberger completing 26 out of 82 deep pass attempts in 2020, a completion percentage of 31.7%, for 797 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, with only two of those targets dropped. His 83.2 quarterback rating was his lowest at any depth level.
In comparison, Roethlisberger completed 30 of 87 deep pass attempts during the 2018 season for 1,100 yards with 15 touchdowns to two interceptions, and his quarterback rating of 112.9 was his highest among all depth levels.
It wasn’t so much the volume that was missing last season, but rather the accuracy and the impact. Then again, he hasn’t posted a completion percentage on deep targets higher than 35 percent since 2016, but you want to be hitting at least a third of those balls.