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Ask the Stat Geek: Plays out of shotgun and targets of interceptions

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Our BTSC Podcasters ask questions about Ben’s targets during interceptions and how often the Steelers run shotgun.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Do you have a statistics question (either large or small) about the Steelers or NFL football? Send them in to BTSC’s stat geek at STLRSuperFanDad@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can find.

In this installment, I tackle a couple of questions where I was called out on BTSC podcasts to find the answers.

Jeff Hartman on both The Standard is The Standard and Steelers Preview.

“What percentage of snaps in 2018 did Ben Roethlisberger take under center?”

Jeff has asked this question at least twice, if not three times or more in various BTSC podcasts. I originally was not sure I could even find this statistic without going through play-by-play of each game and charting it myself. But after he mentioned it several times, I thought I better at least give it a shot.

I was able to find some statistics on the subject, but I was unable to manipulate them in ways I would have liked. For instance, the best I have been able to find are team statistics based on teams running out of shotgun or under center. So the 2018 statistics will also have the 30 snaps by Josh Dobbs included. Additionally, I was only able to find statistics which dealt with the percentage of snaps in the season, not a numerical total. But this information is definitely better than having to search each play myself.

According to sharpfootballstats.com, the Steelers were in shotgun formation for 79% of their plays in 2018. The only team who had a higher percentage was the Kansas City Chiefs with 80%, while the league average was 62%. With the Steelers running 1,116 offensive plays, 79% would give a total between 877 to 887 plays in shotgun.

Inversely, this stat meant the Steelers took their offensive snap under center 21% of the plays, which equates to 229 to 239 snaps. Also keep in mind the Steelers had 14 plays which were kneel-downs which equated to 1.25% of their total offensive snaps. When under center, the Steelers ran the ball 73% of the time which was the fourth highest in the league. Across the league, teams ran the ball 68% of the time when the quarterback was under center.

While in shotgun, the Steelers passed the ball 80% of the time which was 14th in the league and only slightly higher than the league average of 77%. So it would be safe to conclude that the reason Ben Roethlisberger led the league in pass attempts was because the Steelers lined up a lot in shotgun, not because they threw an unprecedented amount out of each configuration.

Bryan Anthony Davis on The Steelers Hangover.

“Other than the pick-six against Cincinnati, were all of Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions in 2018 when he targeted Antonio Brown?”

It is correct the pick-six against Cincinnati was not an attempt toward Antonio Brown since he was in active for the game. As for Ben Roethlisberger‘s other 15 interceptions on the season, they were not all targets for Antonio Brown. But there was an usually high amount of interceptions thrown in his direction.

Of Ben Roethlisberger‘s league leading 16 interceptions in 2018, 10 of them were when he was targeting Antonio Brown. Add on the Josh Dobbs interception in Oakland which was also intended for Brown and he led the NFL in intercepted targets with 11. The next closest receiver was Mike Evans with eight targets which were intercepted. Brown’s mark of 11 intercepted targets was the most since A.J. Green in 2013 with 12.

As for the other Steelers who were targeted during an interception in 2018, JuJu Smith-Schuster had four while Vance McDonald and Jesse James each had one.

In conclusion, Ben Roethlisberger took approximately four out of every five snaps out of the shotgun in 2018 and threw interceptions in the direction of Antonio Brown in 11 of his 16 picks.