Well, our fearless leader e-mailed me a few days ago with an interesting article put up by ProFootballFocus. Here's the article. Basically, this article breaks down every pass completed by most of the NFL starting quarterbacks (the fluidity of the position for some teams means not all QBs to have started a game are represented). The article defines deep throws as those which are 20 yards or longer, and breaks it down by completion percentage, percentage of total throws which qualify as deep throws, and interceptions on deep throws. Overall, I thought the article was a little surprising in regard to our humongous leader, Ben Roethlisberger.
I'm not going to break down the exact rankings off each quarterback in each category because of sample size issues (for example, Vince Young is surprisingly good on the deep throws... until you remember he only started a few games). A few highlights to point out before I break down our boy.
I was totally unsurprised by Peyton Manning's pedestrian completion percentage on the deep ball. I've maintained for awhile that Peyton is unbeatable when conditions are right, but actually breaks down a bit more when things are going well, and this season things did not go well. More importantly, his age is showing up and his deep ball is losing some power and touch, and it showed both in the game and now on the stat sheet.
Another encouraging sign for Josh Freeman - while his completion percentage on the deep ball could stand some increase, his remarkably low interceptions are a big deal. This kid is supremely talented and I'm very excited about his potential. I would not be surprised if the NFC for the next decade is going to be a three-way battle between the Bucs, the Lions, and the Packers. Yeah, I went there.
But on to a more interesting topic - Big Ben. I was actually somewhat surprised and disappointed by Big Ben's accuracy on the deep ball - my own impression after the season was that Ben could very well have the most accurate deep ball in the league. I can certainly recall a few passes that were dropped in perfectly, yet he only came in 12th with 36.32%. It's not a bad number, but I anticipated better. Some cause for joy results from his interception percentage on the deep ball - it's a fairly safe proposition for us, as Ben came in 27th with only THREE of his interceptions coming out of his 69 deep passes (a meager 4.35%). Again, I removed VY from consideration.
We can banter back and forth all we want on whether these numbers are really reflective and does Ben's style of play affect this at all, etc. etc., but I think the real discussion here is this - in light of Ben's numbers, should we be throwing the deep ball more?
If you remove Vince Young from the equation, Big Ben comes in second with most d
eep passes attempting. First place? Aaron Rodgers. Coincidence that numbers 1 and 2 are the Superbowl quarterbacks from this year? I leave it to you on that issue, but there can be little doubt that outside a kickoff return for a touchdown and perhaps an interception return for a touchdown, the deep touchdown pass is the most decisive tide-turning play in sports. Everyone wants to see more of them, because they're incredibly exciting, and my first instinct is to beg Bruce Arians to chuck it deep far more often. Look at our receivers! Wallace, Sanders, Brown... all of them can excel as deep ball guys, and we'd open up the run game for Mendy, Issac "Destroyer of Worlds" Redman, and everyone's new favorite despite having never played a down, Baron Batch. (Forgive my touch of admonishment).
Some people, on the other hand, will want to play the odds game. Ben's completion percentage deep is only middle of the pack. - just over 1/3 of his deep balls are caught. It might not be worth the risk of going for it so much - we're already the second highest as it is!
Personally, I'd argue we mostly stay the course. We are throwing the deep ball quite a bit, and we have the weapons to pull it off. At the same time, I don't think throwing it more is the solution to fix any problems our offense has. For the most part, when we've need a big clutch play in big games, we got them. (A certain rookie with a ball stuck to his head comes to mind). I think I, like any fan, would be pleased to see us going big just a little more, and I think our team is well-suited to do so. I am concerned, however, about exposing Ben to even more hits behind our suspect offensive line. Our receivers are pretty damn fast, but the simple fact of the matter is Ben gets hit a lot. If we call deep plays too much more than we already do, we could have a problem because our sacks allowed are going to go up and Ben is going to get knocked around even more than usual. I'm not a fan.
If we really want to quibble over playcalling, I'd rather see us reduce the number of bubble screens to the receivers we run. I, personally, despise the play, and I can't really recall many instances of it being too successful for us. Yet, there it was, I'd guess around five times a game. My prescription for a little offensive improvement? Drop the bubble screens in favor of a few more runs or mid-range passes.
And maybe another deep ball or two.