How Often Does Ben Roethlisberger Throw Downfield?

We’re big fans of statistical context around here, and a study posted Tuesday brings plenty of context and relativity to the league’s quarterbacks. Fan Duels’ JJ Zachariason tweeted a list of how often – and how well – quarterbacks have performed on throws which traveled 15+ air yards this season. Using a qualifier list of those with 75+ such attempts, here’s a look at the chart of the best and worst.

The list is sorted by total number of pass attempts.

You can see Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers. 14.7% of his throws have traveled 15+ air yards, while 37.3% of them have been completed.

So what’s the context? Roethlisberger’s numbers aren’t worst in the league. There are plenty of others comparable or worse. Justin Herbert’s 15+ rate is actually lower than Roethlisberger’s, a surprising stat given Herbert’s much better arm strength. And Roethlisberger’s completion rate is comparable to names like Matt Ryan and Lamar Jackson, while it’s better than Ryan Tannehill and Jared Goff.

But Roethlisberger’s overall rankings are certainly toward the lower third in football. His 15+ air yard rate is 27th in the NFL, while his completion rate on those throws ranks 32nd in the league.

It’s fair to say Roethlisberger isn’t the complete dink-and-dunk passer the national media has made him out to be. And arguably no team uses more RPOs than the Steelers, which does bring his percentages down; no RPO is designed to throw that far downfield. But his completion percentage has been his biggest issue for years now. It’s been consistently poor, and this context proves it. Largely, the names worse than him aren’t company you want to keep: Goff, Sam Darnold, Mike Glennon, and Jameis Winston, for example.

To be fair and provide further context, Roethlisberger’s receivers haven’t always helped him out this year. Chase Claypool has been maddingly inconsistent while Diontae Johnson has suffered the occasional drop, most notably against the Baltimore Ravens. Completion percentage isn’t an independent stat solely derived from the quarterback. But the sample sizes are large, and every quarterback deals with drops. Given Roethlisberger’s history of struggling here, there really isn’t an excuse. Pittsburgh is willing to take their shots downfield. They’re just inefficient at hitting those big plays.

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