Former Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has some advice for current Steelers’ quarterback Kenny Pickett. Be aggressive. Roethlisberger joined 102.5 DVE during the team’s Hall of Honor weekend and was asked to evaluate Pickett’s play.
“I don’t know if it’s Kenny that’s nervous to [throw deep] or if it’s coaches in his ear telling him, ‘protect the ball, protect the ball, protect the ball,'” Roethlisberger said. “But at some point you gotta throw that ‘protect the ball’ out the window and just take some chances. Because it’s not really working right now. You gotta find a way to win.”
It’s an assessment Roethlisberger’s offered before on his own weekly podcast, urging the Steelers’ offense to open up the playbook and take more vertical shots. But the reality is few teams throw deep as often as Pittsburgh has. The problem they’re facing is an inability to complete deep throws. They’re an inefficient deep ball team and the production simply hasn’t been there.
On the season, they have just one completion of 40+ yards, Mitch Trubisky hitting rookie Connor Heyward on a busted defensive play in Week 6. In fact, the longest completion Pickett has this season is just 30 yards, connecting with George Pickens in the Week 7 loss to Miami. So Roethlisberger is accurate in noting the need for this offense to make the big play but the data shows Pittsburgh’s trying.
But Roethlisberger says the Steelers need to do more and that old-school thinking, circumstances that existed when he was a rookie, needs to be ignored.
“If it’s just him being, you know, trying to be smart and trying not to, you know, turn the ball over because I’m sure at some point someone told him, Hey, we’ve got a really good defense. Just don’t lose it for us…I said this in my podcast the other day, I’d throw the ball deep on first, second and third down just to try and do something. Just why not? Why not try something different? Just take some shots. You’ve got receivers. What’s the worst that happens? You throw a 40 yard interception. I mean, just go.”
Pickett is obviously playing in a much different situation than what Roethlisberger benefited from in his first year. Both quarterbacks played earlier than expected but Roethlisberger’s 2004 squad had a strong running game and a top-level defense. He never had to throw more than 28 times in a game during his rookie regular season. Compare that to Pickett who has zero ground game and has dropped back on average of nearly 52 times in the three games he’s started and finished.
It’s a discouraging number for any quarterback especially a rookie like him. And a stat that needs to change if he and this offense want to have more success the second half of the year. Roethlisberger, with his Hall of Fame resume by the end of his career, could get away with “what’s the worst that can happen?” than a rookie can who feels the scrutiny of every mistake.
On the season, Pickett has thrown just a pair of touchdowns with eight interceptions so there’s likely a fear, or at least a concern, about turning the football over. Taking care of the football today will be critical. Staying clean there should produce a win over the New Orleans Saints, whose offense has given the ball away 17 times this season and have a league-worst -10 turnover differential. Still, as Dave Bryan recently noted, the Steelers have the shortest “long” touchdown of the year of just eight yards and it sure would be nice to see that number change after today’s game.