It is pretty obvious that since Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from his shoulder and rib injury that he has not played as well as he did before suffering the injury. In fact, outside of some bright spots in the game against the Dallas Cowboys, he has been downright awful.
Over the course of his career Roethlisberger has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league on third downs. Prior to suffering his injury he had a 66.3% completion ratio on third downs and those stats included an 8.3 yards per attempt and 7 touchdown passes versus 0 interceptions.
In the three games since his return to the lineup, however, Roethlisberger has posted a 40.7% completion percentage, a 4.6 yards per attempt, and thrown only 1 touchdown to go along with 1 interception.
Roethlisberger has inferred in his interviews over the last several weeks that his problems are not related to any lingering issues from his injuries, but has said that he thought that the depth of the routes needed to be increased because teams had caught onto the shorter passing game that offensive coordinator Todd Haley had implemented.
To carry that out even further, teams have been playing more zone coverage versus man since Roethlisberger returned from his injury and have also done a much better job at disguising pressure and who was dropping into coverage. This not only gave the Steelers offensive line fits, as evidenced by the 10 sacks and numerous pressures allowed, but Roethlisberger as well.
Haley never really adjusted the offense to include more of a spread look that included flood type routes and a high-low vertical attack to combat this and thus the receivers space underneath was limited. The receivers had problems finding space and Roethlisberger often times ended up holding the ball for a sack in a key situation or forcing it into tight areas. Instead of the offense being rhythmic with quick reads and progressions it became playground-like in nature.
Haley didn\’t use the backs out of the backfield nearly enough either. This has been a sore spot of sorts all season.
When you add in the fact that the Steelers couldn\’t run the ball well and the play of the offensive line was below the line, you had an offense that was severely dysfunctional. Would more no-huddle have helped more? Perhaps, but only if it was more vertical in nature.
The scariest thing about wide receiver Mike Wallace most likely leaving during the offseason via free agency is the fact that the Steelers will lose the ability to take the top off of coverages. Sure, Wallace had his share of drops, but speed kills and must be respected. Haley, however, did not ask for enough respect down the stretch, and reading in-between the lines of some of the comments made by Roethlisberger over the course of the last several weeks, I think he would agree.
This offense needs some serious fine tuning during the offseason in order to adjust to teams that insist on trying to sit on the short passing game.
Hopefully with those adjustments we will see the return of “Third Down Ben” as well.