In the latest edition of the Move The Sticks podcast, NFL Network analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks spent the beginning portion of the segment highlighting the recent front office changes in the Pittsburgh Steelers organization this offseason, specifically the hiring of GM Omar Khan and addition of assistant GM Andy Weidl as detailed in a previous post. Later in the show, Jeremiah and Brooks go throw the teams with the least amount of explosive pass plays from last season, highlighting what went wrong and if each team did enough to improve this offseason. One of the teams that ranked in the top five in fewest explosive pass plays in 2021 were the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Ben notoriously, you know, played small ball here towards the end of his career,” said Jeremiah regarding Pittsburgh lack of explosive plays. “They were tied with Indy 75 explosive pass plays.”
Anyone watching the Pittsburgh Steelers offense the last few seasons can sympathize with Jeremiah’s comments regarding the lack of explosive pass plays and the “dink-and-dunk” offense led by Ben Roethlisberger. For context, Ben had 5.44 adjusted net yards per passing attempt last season and only averaged 6.2 yards per attempt according to Pro Football Reference. Both categories haven’t cracked seven yards since 2018 and Ben’s completed air yards per passing attempt are even worse during this timeframe, coming in at 4.6 in 2021. Brooks was in full agreement with Jeremiah on the podcast, criticizing Roethlisberger’s deep ball.
“The explosive plays really is because primarily Pittsburgh dealt with Ben Roethlisberger’s lack of arm strength,” said Brooks. “He couldn’t push the ball down the field.”
The staff here at Steelers Depot have put Ben under the microscope for years in terms of his ability, or lack thereof, of connecting on the deep ball in recent seasons due to bad “Wi-Fi” with his receivers. While it was evidently apparent that Ben’s arm strength waned near the end of the 2021 season, it wasn’t for a lack of attempting the throw the deep ball. Rather, his deep ball accuracy being fairly poor, rarely connecting deep down the field due to poor ball placement, attacking receivers in contested coverage, or the receiver failing to haul in the reception.
Where all 32 NFL teams need to improve in 2019:
Ben Roethlisberger’s downfield accuracy – Key Number: 41.4% of passes 10-plus yards downfield were uncatchable (5th worst). In all, just 42.4% of his passes were considered accurate (26th).https://t.co/xxjaZ8YLH8 pic.twitter.com/oveItEXqVq
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) August 29, 2019
Brooks and Jeremiah did make sure to highlight the notable additions Pittsburgh made in the offseason to add weaponry to the receiver core, drafting the likes of Georgia WR George Pickens and Memphis WR Calvin Austin III while also signing Miles Boykin who was cut by the Baltimore Ravens in attempt to add receivers that can stretch the field and make explosive plays in the passing game more of a regularity.
“They certainly have upgraded the speed and explosiveness on the outside, depending upon which quarterback they choose,” said Brooks.
While the weapons added to the passing game will undoubtedly help Pittsburgh create more explosive pass plays, the inevitable change in QB play will also go a long way to increase the number of explosive pass plays Pittsburgh’s offense can create according to Jeremiah.
“But with not only Pickett and Trubisky being able to push the ball vertically, but you’ve also got two really good athletes who are going to be able to extend some plays, which I think will provide some more explosives plays,” Jeremiah said when referencing the possible upgrade over Roethlisberger in the explosive pass play department.
While it can be argued that Pittsburgh may struggle with a new QB under center next season in terms of commanding the offense and using all the intangibles Ben brought to the table, it’s hard to argue against Jeremiah’s point regarding the ability for either Pickett or Trubisky to push the ball down the field vertically better than Ben has done the last couple of seasons, dinking and dunking his way down the field. Whether it be Pickett, Trubisky, or even Mason Rudolph who Bucky Brooks makes sure to include in the discussion, all three likely have just as good, if not better arm strength than Ben at this juncture in terms of attacking defense down the field.
Jeremiah also makes a good point about QB mobility being a key factor to extend plays and allow receivers to get open against coverage, thus resulting in more explosive plays in the passing game. Ben had great mobility earlier in his career and was able to extend plays and shake off defenders with ease, but those days have long since vanished, leaving a more stagnant passer that is more of a statue in the pocket. Pickett and Trubisky both possess good athleticism and the ability to extend plays with their legs, being able to buy time for their intended targets to uncover down the field as either can make a throw on the run/off platform better than Ben did last season.
Jeremiah ranked Pittsburgh the most improved of the five teams listed in terms of improving in the explosive pass play department in 2022 while Brooks sided with the Jacksonville Jaguars and second year QB Trevor Lawrence taking a leap forward as a passer. Regardless, Pittsburgh has notably struggled in terms of generating big plays down the field the last few years, but they did manage to add both explosive pass catchers as well as new, more athletic passers this offseason to give Yinzers reasonable optimism to climb out of the bottom five in this category in 2022.