Ben Roethlisberger Has Been Excellent On Third-Down Passes


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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • jsmitt

    Ben is the best in the league. I say that because the other qbs don’t have to deal with Todd Haley’s incompetence on 1st and 2nd downs. He should give Ben the keys and let’s it roll. I’m afraid he thinks he has a magic pill with Hubbard as an extra OL and thinks he’ll be able to run that ridiculous formation successfully against good defenses. Because if he does he’ll need Big Ben to the rescue on 3rd and very longs.

  • SteelerFanInMD

    How many of his failed 3rd down passes came against the ravens? Too many I would say since the Steelers offense did nothing until the 4th quarter.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t think anybody would debate that he played indefensibly poorly. He had four or five passes that should have been intercepted in that game. But in answering your question, he completed 5 of 13 passes (including 4th down as well), only three of which converted.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Cool