2021 South Side Questions: Why Aren’t Steelers Attacking Middle Of Field?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom look to be in a starting role (or complementary role in Freiermuth’s case) for the season opener.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. They have a 53-man roster, though it will always change to some degree. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Why aren’t the Steelers attacking the middle of the field offensively?

One aspect of the Steelers’ offense that has been conspicuously missing for some time now is the ability to attack the middle of the field on intermediate and deep throws. While his overall intermediate attempts are not entirely out of whack with the rest of the league, the percentage of Ben Roethlisberger’s centerfield attempts between the numbers certainly are. He has only attempted five passes over the middle beyond 10 yards through the first two games, accounting for just seven percentage of his total pass attempts.

Derek Carr is at 14 percent. Josh Allen (15.4), Ryan Tannehill (20), Tom Brady (17.5), Trevor Lawrence (13.1), Daniel Jones (27.5), Matthew Stafford (25), Kyler Murray (13.2), Sam Darnold (13.7), Jimmy Garoppolo (20)…you sense a pattern here. Basically everybody likes to throw over the middle of the field beyond short-yardage passes than does Roethlisberger.

One can argue that it’s a small sample size, but the reality is this has been his game for a while now. On a much larger sample size, Roethlisberger’s centerfield passing beyond 10 yards still only accounted for 10.5 percent of his pass attempts. It was 12.4 in 2018 when he threw for over 5,000 yards. Yet as recently as 2018, they accounted for 18.4 percent of his pass attempts. It was close to 15 percent the year before, about 16 percent the year before?

So why the decline? It does coincide with the move from Todd Haley to Randy Fichtner as offensive coordinator. It also predates his injury. We’re still dealing with a small sample size, and some of his primary middle-of-the-field targets are rookies who are still growing. We also have a new offensive coordinator involved. But will we see the offense expand their range over the middle of the field as the season progresses?

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