In 2004, when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the NFL Draft, the “Big Ben” era officially began. While fans dubbed the man from Miami of Ohio “Big Ben” due to his 6-feet 4-inch, 235-pound frame, not everyone at the time was aware of the rocket arm he possessed.
But the deep ball is something Roethlisberger has always done well, even in his early years. Offensive coordinators have come and gone, but one thing always remains the same with Roethlsiberger — the deep ball is one of the biggest weapons he brings to the team every Sunday.
For those who follow Pro Football Focus on Twitter, you likely saw the following tweet about Roethlisberger’s continuing knack last season for throwing touchdowns on deep passes:
No quarterback in the NFL had more touchdowns on passes travelling 20+ yards through the air in 2016 than Ben Roethlisberger pic.twitter.com/x00fCaNNQ1— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 24, 2017
Impressive stuff, but this certainly isn’t the first time Roethlisberger has been at the top of these charts. In fact, under Todd Haley, who was supposed to help Roethlisberger develop the short passing game and manipulate the ball down the field, Ben hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to hitting the big, deep throws.
Last year, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN wrote about how Roethlisberger’s numbers go much further than just touchdown passes traveling over 20-yards:
Roethlisberger's average pass attempt is traveling 8.7 yards downfield, the fifth-longest distance in the NFL. That's a few yards short of last year's 9.98, but this year's average doesn't tell the whole story.
On throws traveling at least 25 yards in the air, Roethlisberger easily has the league's most attempts with 50, seven of which converted to touchdowns. The next-closest is Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Roethlisberger's overall attempts per game are down from 39 to 36.6, but he maintains that his stats are secondary to wins. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who's seen Roethlisberger over the years change his game to become a quick-strike passer who takes fewer sacks, said Antonio Brown and other Steelers playmakers understand throwing 40 passes isn't best for the game plan some weeks.
These statistics all came near the midway point of the season, not at season’s end. Even if you go back to 2015, Roethlisberger’s accuracy on deeper passes was second to none.
Most accurate QBs on deep (20+) passes this year:— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 19, 2015
B Roethlisberger 56.8%
A Rodgers 47.1
Fans typically lament the time Bruce Arians spent with the team, talking about how it was a “chuck-and-duck” style which may have resulted in big plays for the offense, but also hung Roethlisberger out to dry, and often got him injured. When Haley was hired to take over the offense, the talk was about emphasizing the shorter passing game, but that hasn’t been the case.
And why would it be? Roethlisberger is clearly one of the best, if not the best, deep passers of his era. And when you have receivers like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, why not air it out more than just a few times per game.
The deep ball and “Big Ben” go hand-in-hand, and fans who think they won’t see the deep pass continue to be a key part of the Steelers’ offense in 2017 might want to think again.