Robinson: Steelers offense will determine how deep they go into January

By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley talk during minicamp Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

Some deep thoughts on the Steelers offense.

If numbers indeed do not lie, offensive coordinator Todd Haley's effect on Ben Roethlisberger and the way he plays was significant during their first season together. Year 2 starts Friday in Latrobe.

According to Pro Football Focus, which analyzes every play of every NFL game, Roethlisberger attempted 47 passes of 20 yards or longer last season, completing 11 for 422 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Four passes were dropped.

Those 47 attempts are approximately one-third fewer than the 68 deep passes Roethlisberger attempted during a 12-4 season under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in 2011. Roethlisberger completed 21 of those for 729 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. Two were dropped.

That's a significant falloff from 21 deep passes completed in 2011 to 11 last season, even as Roethlisberger fell only three places from 26th to 29th in leaguewide deep passing statistics. Among the quarterbacks who ranked higher than Roethlisberger in completing the deep throw were Mark Sanchez, Nick Foles and Michael Vick. Roethlisberger barely finished ahead of Brandon Weeden and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

What's intriguing is that during the Steelers' most recent non-playoff season before last year, in 2009, Roethlisberger was No. 2 in deep passing, completing 30 of 69 attempts with seven passes dropped for 1,028 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. That's when Big Ben was truly big-play Ben.

In just three seasons, Roethlisberger has gone from completing 30 passes of 20 yards or longer to only 11.

During the Steelers' last Super Bowl season in 2010, Roethlisberger was No. 7 in deep passing, going 22 of 54 for 725 yards and four touchdowns.

The numbers support all the speculation before and during the season that Haley would dial back on the deep throws and call more high-percentage pass plays designed to keep the chains moving and Roethlisberger from absorbing the punishment that can occur as he attempts to find the time to go downfield.

Haley tinkered with the offense during the offseason all coordinators do but Roethlisberger didn't say if he lobbied for more deep throws, something he commonly did with Arians.

We're going to have to wait and see what happens in Game No. 1, Roethlisberger said. I don't want to unveil any secrets yet.

Among the other measurable quarterback statistics, Roethlisberger at age 30, and in his ninth NFL season ranked much higher. He was third in passing accuracy while under pressure (71.1 percent completion rate) and seventh in overall accuracy (75.8 percent) when dropped passes, intentional throwaways and spikes were discarded.

He is the ninth slowest quarterback in getting rid of the ball (2.88 seconds), but that time-in-the-pocket number could be as much the result of his inconsistent pass protection as it is his delivery. Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck were even slower than Roethlisberger, barely ranking ahead of read-option quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.

With training camp about to start amid speculation how much the loss of James Harrison and Mike Wallace will affect the Steelers, some other interesting numbers:

Wallace finished only 58th in wide receiver rating, which factors in the number of times a receiver is targeted and the yards he produces. Wallace was targeted 116 times, catching 64 passes for 838 yards. Five passes intended for him were intercepted.

Factoring in sacks, hits and quarterback hurries, Harrison applied pressure on about 10 percent of his pass rushes. For comparison's sack, LaMarr Woodley had 26 pressures on 234 pass rushes. Harrison rushed on 294 snaps to Woodley's 235.

Keenan Lewis, now with the Saints, ranked 20th among NFL cornerbacks in stopping the run, something that is overlooked at a position where defenders who can't stop the pass don't last long in the league.