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Steelers Quarterback Passing Locations: Week 14 Vs. Ravens

Week 14 is in the books, and it’s time to provide my quarterback passing locations charting for the game and the regular season thus far. In case you missed the previous articles, I will be charting, visualizing, and providing takeaways for the all-important quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to Thomas Mock for his great article that helped me learn much of what I’m using today. Couple of notes before we jump in. All yardage referenced are air yards from the line of scrimmage and bats at the line of scrimmage, spikes, and clear throwaways removed. This week’s charting has one batted pass removed.

This happened to be on Quarterback Kenny Pickett’s one pass attempt of the game, playing eight snaps in his tenth game. He was thrown hard to the ground on a sack in the first quarter, curiously coming back in for another series, and then was taken out of the game. Here’s to hoping his practice participation this week trends positively for his health (second concussion this season) and this week’s game.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky came in following the injury, and had a polarizing performance. He went 22/30 for a strong (73.3%) completion rate, with some nice throws for 276 yards and a touchdown to tight end Pat Freiermuth on a slant over the middle in Pittsburgh’s comeback attempt, learning from earlier mistakes. Namely, these were his three interceptions, which were the other side of the coin. The first one had two receivers in the same area, throwing right to the linebacker as he also did on the second pick, both looking for Freiermuth over the middle in the first half in or near the red zone. The third interception came in the third quarter, a deep attempt to wide receiver Diontae Johnson overthrown, and the safety reading and tracking it the whole way to come over and get the easy turnover. Trubisky was sacked once, and moved the pocket quite a bit, with one lowlight running backward on a third and five, ending up 22 yards behind the line of scrimmage and got walloped as he threw, but was able to get it to wide receiver Steven Sims on the sideline for only two yards stalling the drive.

Couple of patterns in the game, starting with lots of play-action and only four passes in the first quarter. Trubisky had a nice stretch to start the second half with eight straight completions, with the final four of those all gaining ten-plus yards, but unfortunately, those drives ended with the aforementioned third down fail and the third interception. He was four of six on his third-down passes overall, going 2/2 in the first half, including a good throw sliding left to Freiermuth on an in route over the middle, and the second on a nice play design faking the recently run fullback dive and getting the short pass to running back Najee Harris with room for healthy YAC up the sideline for seven yards on third and one. 2/4 on third down in the second half, highlighted by a third and nine dump-off to running back Jaylen Warren three yards behind the line, making a great cut inside forcing missed tackles and gaining 14 yards, and a lowlight on an overthrow to Johnson in the endzone, who is still yet to catch one this season.

Let’s look at a simple view of the 30 charted passes, with a number of throws at each pass distance for week 14:

Trubisky’s most common pass distance was 5-10 yards at 36.7%, throwing the ball further than Pickett’s last outing (40.7% at 0-5 yards in week 13), and returned to the most common pass distance as it was from weeks 10-12. One example was on a play action pass on Trubisky’s first attempt of the second quarter, impressively able to get an accurate pass out with his ankle wrapped by the defender, but Johnson all too familiarly running backward on the YAC attempt that could have been a chain mover. At the end of the first half, Trubisky found Freiermuth on a good in route over the middle at six yards, and with nice separation got a bit of YAC on the nine-yard gain right before the untimely second interception, keeping encouraging drives off the scoreboard. Another example was encouraging in many ways, a third down conversion to Johnson on an out route, enjoying space created by a bunch alignment to help free him on the out route, catching it at eight yards with good separation, and able to provide another six in his decisive YAC effort along the sideline. Johnson also broke a tackle on another out route target from Trubisky, catching it at six yards and provided just enough for the chain-moving gain of 11.

The second-ranked pass distance was 0-5 yards, at 23.3%. One I enjoyed was on a good find to wide receiver Steven Sims on an in route, catching it at four yards and making a good cut inside to make the defender miss for seven yards of YAC and a first down. 10-15 yard passes tied with 0-5 yard passes for the second most common distance, way up from 14.8% last week. A favorite at this distance was on a great throw over the middle, making sure he got the pass over the linebacker but under the safety, with tight end Connor Heyward making the great contested catch on the post route at 13 yards. One example in the second quarter was a low pass, but Johnson was able to go down and make the catch on the curl route for 11 yards. In the third quarter, Trubisky held onto the ball looking deep off a first down play action, needing to get through his progressions quicker, and noted several short options that were open, but was able to scramble and eventually find Harris open at the sticks who was tackled immediately. Late in the third quarter, Trubisky was low on a post route, which Pickens went down and got for the catch and gain of 11.

16.7% of passes were explosive (more on this in a bit), a noticeable increase with Trubisky from a 14.2% season average that was already encouragingly on the rise. 6.7% of passes were behind the line for the second least common for the week, which has been up and down this season and a slight downtick from last week. No passes in week 14 went 15-20 yards, which had been trending positively the past couple of weeks with Pickett at over 7%.

Here are the dots for the charted throws for week 14 as we add more context:

Trubisky definitely favored certain areas of the field in this game, starting with over the middle. He went 8/12 for a strong 66.7%, but was volatile with two of his interceptions, and the other two accurate passes. One on his first pass attempt on a rollout throw to Zach Gentry that hit his hands and was dropped, and the other late in the game to Freiermuth that hit him in the chest with the linebacker there and credited for the pass breakup. At the right numbers to the sideline, Trubisky went 8/9 for a very high 88.9% completion rate, and important to note that none of his throws over the middle or to the right were past 15 yards. This leads to his explosive attempts, going 3/5 (60%) all to the left side, and his longest attempt of 45 yards his third interception. The first attempt was his longest completion of the game, a great go route by wide receiver George Pickens, stacking solid cornerback Marlon Humphrey so well he was still able to make the grab on the underthrow in the first quarter. Late in the second quarter, they connected on another on a great throw and back shoulder contested hands catch. The other that I’ve yet to mention was very impressive, dropping it in the bucket 31 yards on a go route to Johnson despite the big hit on his throw that was flagged for roughing the passer. A strong suit of Trubisky compared to Pickett this season has been the intermediate game, and in week 14 he was 5/7 (71.4%), all in the 10-15 yard range.

Now for the heat maps, first with all the charted passes for the game, then completions only:

Very similar charts in comparison to Pickett’s common drop-offs in the total and completions-only views, with the noticeable change for Trubisky being the two explosive incompletions. The latters’ most targeted area was over the middle at 7-10 yards and had more success with completions extending to the right numbers at the same pass distance. The charts highlight a big difference in the quarterback’s most recent performances, in style and game circumstance, with the linked article at the beginning of the article highlighting Pickett’s short range and team effort not having to do too much in week 13 against the Falcons, compared to Trubisky’s week 14 outing where the team never led and lacked help from the defense and special teams overall. This paired with his well-documented errors that ended the team’s fantastic turnover-less streak were particularly discouraging, and it will be interesting to see if Pickett is able to return this week and how the passing game responds in the remainder of the 2022 season.

Now let’s look at the 425 charted throws on the season for Pickett and Trubisky:

The pass distances remain in the same ranking order again this week, starting with 0-5 yard passes. The most common pass distance is now at 35.3%, which is down from last week’s season average of 36.2%. 5-10 yard passes are still the second most common, at 27.5% on a continual climb as the season has progressed. 10-15 yard passes saw a boost with Trubisky at the helm, for a 15.5% season average after plateauing the past two games at 14.9% with Pickett. This highlights the positive difference in frequency and success for Trubisky in the intermediate range, and I will highlight the latter in a moment. 14.4% explosive passes on the season now, which saw a minuscule uptick of 0.2% this week. Behind-the-line passes have been decreasing as of late, dropping half a percentage point to 12.7%. The least common pass distance is still 15-20 yards as it’s been for much for the season, and decreased again this game as it had with Pickett the last several weeks, down to 9.2% on the season now.

Here are the dots for the 2022 season through week 14:

On the stat sheet, Trubisky is now 100/158 (63.3), with his week 14 game boosting his early season average in five games played from weeks 1-6 (60.9%), along with four touchdowns and five interceptions. In comparison, Pickett is 191/294 on the season now (65%) with only four touchdowns (highlighting the offense’s scoring woes) and eight interceptions in ten games (three were incomplete games). Both have negative touchdown-interception ratios, and whoever starts in week 15 needs to right this ship against the Panthers. Looking at the completion rates by pass distance, Trubisky is now 70/93 (75.3%) at ten yards or less, compared to Pickett who has been great in this range (164/195, 84.1%). The intermediate numbers clearly favor Trubisky, now at 28/44 from 10-20 yards (63.6%) which increased over a percentage point following this game, compared to Pickett’s much worse 18/56 (32.1%). On explosive passes, Trubisky is now 10/27, increasing his completion rate to 37%, which was previously 31.8%, and nearing Pickett’s 13/34 results (38.2%) which has improved as of late. It will be interesting to see what the numbers and opportunities look like against Carolina.

To close, here are the season heat maps of all attempts, completions only, and a pass locations comparison for the quarterbacks on all charted throws for the season:

What are your thoughts on Trubisky’s performance against the Ravens? What about how the Steelers quarterbacks have compared to date? How do you think things will play out for the remainder of the season? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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