One of the things that separates the Pittsburgh Steelers from most teams is, to put it simply, the fact that they have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center. He is a true franchise quarterback, which is not something that many teams are fortunately enough to be able to say about the playing taking the snaps from under center for them.
One of the things that separates a true franchise piece from just a good quarterback is how he performance in certain key scenarios. One of them is passing the ball on third down, which should be no surprise. If you don’t move the chains on third down, more often than not, your drive is over, and you have to give the ball over to the other team’s offense.
Fortunately for the Steelers, Roethlisberger has been very good on third down this year—in fact, one of the best in the league. According to a chart shared by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus on Twitter, he has posted the third-highest quarterback rating on third down in the league, behind only Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the three quarterbacks who may be fairly considered the best in the NFL.
Roethlisberger has run 100 third-down plays, and thrown the ball on 93 of them. He has been sacked three times, and scrambled once. Of his 93 pass attempts, he has completed 55 of them, which is actually just under 60 percent, and not as good of a number as you would expect. According to my charting, however, he has dealt with five drops on third down, and I grade drops conservatively.
Never the less, he has thrown for 789 yards on third down, which works out to 8.5 yards per pass attempt, but more interesting is just how much of that has come through the air. PFF considers 554 of those yards to be ‘air yards’, meaning the distance the ball traveled before the wide receiver caught it. Only 235 yards have come after the catch. So Roethlisberger is throwing some deep passes to convert. According to our charts, he has completed over 20 passes on third down on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air.
On those 93 pass attempts, 10 have resulted in touchdowns, which is the third-most, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Brees, both of whom have 11 touchdowns on roughly 20 more pass attempts. Roethlisberger has thrown only one interception on third down, however, and that works out to a quarterback rating of 118.1. Brees’ quarterback rating is 119.4. Brady’s? It’s actually an unconscionable 149.2 at the moment.
I should probably point out that the Steelers’ average third-down distance faced this season—this includes all snaps, including the ones that Roethlisberger has missed, but that should not throw off the sample size—has been seven yards. And if you figure that the shorter distances feature a higher number of running plays, the fact is that Roethlisberger has had to deal with some very unfavorable circumstances on third down, making his success more impressive.