By Matthew Marczi
An interesting statistical quirk that I have recently noticed is that thus far during the 2013 season, Ben Roethlisberger is getting more of his passing yards through the air—as opposed to after the catch—than he has in years, and perhaps more than he ever has in his career. This is not a good thing.
As it currently stands, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has thrown for 1231 yards this season. 60.8 percent of those yards came through the air, or a little under 750 of his total passing yards.
Compare that to last season, when he threw for 3265 yards, and only 54.7 percent of his yards came through the air. When Todd Haley came on board last year, he introduced a shorter offensive game that relied more heavily on putting the ball into the hands of the offensive playmakers and allowing them to make something happen.
The Steelers of course lost their biggest playmaker, Mike Wallace, this offseason, but that would hardly count for the discrepancy. No, the difference lies quite simply in the fact that the Steelers are always losing.
Roethlisberger’s second- and third-highest percentages of yards gathered through the air came in 2008 and 2009. Some may wonder why 2008 would be relevant in this discussion—after all, the Steelers went 12-4 that year and won the Super Bowl.
But what you would be forgetting would be just how poor the offense was that season, and how many game came down to the final minutes, with Roethlisberger being asked to win the game in the end.
Roethlisberger had five fourth-quarter comebacks or game-winning drives during the regular season that year, and another during the Super Bowl itself.
2009, you might remember, was the year in which the Steelers started the season 6-2 before losing five consecutive games, only to win out and just miss making the playoffs. That year, key injuries and departures on defense led to Roethlisberger airing it out quite a bit, which resulted in some of his best statistical figures. That was also the introduction of Mike Wallace and the long passing game.
This year, Roethlisberger is on pace to attempt more deep passes than ever before in his career. He has already attempted 27 passes of 20 yards or more in four games, which would equal 108 attempts extrapolated over a full season. Even in 2009, he attempted just 69 passes of such distance.
More importantly, he is attempting a higher percentage of deep passes than ever before, with 16.7 percent of his passes this year being of that variety, when he typically averages between 10 and 14 percent.
These are nothing more than symptoms of a desperate team reeling to secure a victory. For a quarterback like Roethlisberger, such a high number of deep passes and a low percentage of yards after the catch is not the equation for success. But as I said, these are the symptoms, and not the problem itself.