Against the Las Vegas Raiders, Ben Roethlisberger’s issues throwing the ball downfield weren’t for a lack of trying. Time and time again, Roethlisberger took 1v1 shots down the sideline to his receivers, primarily Chase Claypool, the best approach to beat the Raiders’ single high looks. But taking those shots and completing those shots are two different things, and Roethlisberger recognizes he and this offense must improve in that area.
Talking with reporters during his weekly Wednesday Q&A session, Roethlisberger said his goal is to connect with Claypool downfield.
“Typically when there’s a guy sitting middle of the field. you don’t go right at him,” Roethlisberger told reporters via Steelers.com. “Chase and I missed too many of those deep ones. I know we connected on one and Diontae got one, but we missed a couple of them. If we connect even one early, I think it could change the outcome of the way defenses play you.”
Roethlisberger went 2/8 with an interception on throws 20+ air yards against the Raiders. The two completions were big gainers, a 41-yarder to Johnson, a 52-yarder to Claypool, but like most facets of this offense, it’s been inefficient. Claypool caught just one pass on five deep targets against the Raiders and has caught only six of his 14 targets through the first two games.
Completing throws downfield don’t come as consistently as other parts of the offense, and it’s unfair to put too high of standards on those plays. But there’s no question that part of the passing game hasn’t been good enough for several years.
According to JJ Zachariason, Roethlisberger has thrown the ball 15+ yards in the air nearly 20% of the time this season. Among QBs with at least 20 total passing attempts, that’s 11th-most of any quarterback, and ahead of names like Patrick Mahomes, Jameis Winston, and Justin Herbert.
Andy Dalton has thrown 1 pass 15 or more air yards this year. He's had 49 attempts. That's the lowest rate in the league by far.
Here's the list: pic.twitter.com/BPPWbRGb9C
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) September 21, 2021
While the table doesn’t show results, it stands to reason Roethlisberger has been among the least successful quarterbacks in pushing the ball deep despite having a receiver like Claypool who – on paper – should win those 50/50 balls a lot more than half the time.
The reasons for the lack of success vary. There have been moments where Claypool couldn’t finish the play and times where Roethlisberger’s throw was off-target, reducing the odds of a completion on an already low-percentage type of throw. But if this run game continues to stall and sputter, they won’t be able to put together long, ten play drives. Which means they have to get chunk plays through the air, compelling this team to improve its deep ball. If not, the offense will look a lot like the 2020 version. So far, it already does.