One of the things that has become endangered in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is the intermediate passing game, and more specifically, the intermediate passing game over the middle of the field. If you look a quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s passing chart, for example, you don’t see many dots—whether green, signaling a completion, or otherwise, signaling an incompletion or interception—between the numbers unless their at, near, or behind the line of scrimmage.
It was perhaps more pronounced as usual during yesterday’s game, which prompted a question being posed to Roethlisberger afterwards, asking if it was something that they were seeing from the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense that led them to shy away from that area. It was rather the opposite, he contended.
“This is a team that their linebackers were kind of soft, so you saw early, hitting some underneath stuff”, he told reporters after the game. “We tried to take advantage of some single coverage on the outside and we were just a little bit off out there. So that’s what’s frustrating, I think”.
Roethlisberger did target the deep passing game, in fact attempting eight passes of 20 or more yards, but all came outside the numbers. Likewise with the relatively sparse presence of the intermediate passing game.
Because of the number of deep passes, he did have a pretty healthy intended air yards figure, but his completed air yards number still left much to be desired—after all, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do if you don’t actually succeed in doing it.
Theoretically, there is no reason that this offense should be uniquely unable to capitalize on attacking the middle of the field, particularly with athletes like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Diontae Johnson, and Najee Harris, who can be mismatch issues for those who would normally patrol center field.
Given what we’ve seen in recent years, it is a bit difficult to buy Roethlisberger’s argument that it was about enticing opportunities elsewhere that led to them shying away from the intermediate and deep areas between the numbers, because it’s been a pattern for some time now.
Is that likely to change any time soon? It was hoped by some—such as myself—that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada would help this offense make better usage of the entire field, but we haven’t seen that yet. How much that is on the plays that are being called or the decisions the quarterback is making once the ball is snapped, it’s difficult to know.