By Matthew Marczi
Last Saturday in the preseason opener, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not see a lot of playing time, as is par for the course for most starters during the early stages of the preseason. Still, there was plenty for people to complain about, including basing the entire offensive outlook for the season on the eight passes the veteran signal caller threw, which clearly dictated that balls must be thrown no more than five yards down the field.
Excluding the one throwaway pass, caused by a double pump necessitated by wide receiver Antonio Brown not anticipating the ball coming his way—and after which he was hit by New York Giants defensive end Damontre Moore—only one of Roethlisberger’s passes traveled 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
He completed three of four passes within the zero to nine-yard range for 27 yards, and went one-for-two on passes behind the line of scrimmage, netting nine yards. All told, that works out to just 4.5 yards per pass attempt.
Which is, of course, a meaningless figure in the first preseason game. Teams utilize the preseason games to work on aspects of their offensive or defensive systems against other opponents, and the Steelers are no different in that regard. As it turns out, the high volume of short passes was a deliberate strategy by offensive coordinator Todd Haley to work on the screen game—specifically against a 4-3 defense, which is the favored alignment in the AFC North.
Speaking to the media, Roethlisberger was asked about the fact that the average distance of his passes was about five yards down the field:
That was intentional. We really wanted to do that against a 4-3 type defense. We wanted to work on our screen games and our short, underneath-type passes. The one to Antonio was more of a conversion route, he wasn’t supposed to go that deep, and it was a conversion-type of thing. It was more game plan than anything. I still think that they will be weapons for us by throwing the short ball. But like I said, that particular game was more about game planning.
It is worth mentioning that Roethlisberger’s backup, Bruce Gradkowski, also generally adhered to the short passing game theme of the evening, with seven of his 10 passes traveling within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and two going beyond 20 yards. Between Landy Jones and John Parker Wilson, only one pass traveled beyond 20 yards, though five of their other 12 passes fell within the intermediate 10-19-yard range. Their game-time circumstances partially dictated that, however.
Now, on the eve of the second preseason game, the question is this: will we see the intermediate and deep passing lanes open up for the first-team offense against the Washington Redskins? The Steelers were often defended tight against the line due to their scheme of keeping the offense in close quarters. In the second preseason game, perhaps Haley and the offense will find it beneficial to test the offensive line’s ability to pass protect on deeper dropbacks.