Roethlisberger Running Offense Like It’s 2005


It is not that often that the Pittsburgh Steelers can have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throw just 18 passes and still handily win that game. At least, it’s not often anymore. Roethlisberger has thrown 20 passes or fewer on 27 occasions over the course of his career, but the vast majority of them are limited to early in his tenure.

And it is not often not because it has been rare for the Steelers to win such games, but rather because it simply doesn’t happen very often. Of course, you can deduce that the Steelers have required Roethlisberger to throw the ball more often in recent years in order for the team to win said games, resulting in him very rarely throwing so few passes.

Including Sunday’s performance, Roethlisberger has only thrown 20 or fewer passes in a game just four times since the 2008 season. He did that four times during the 2008 season, and 12 times during the course of his first two years—19 times in his first four seasons, and 23 times in his first five. Four times since then.

Interestingly, two of those games game this season. Aside from Sunday’s victory, Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 pass attempts for 221 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against the Colts.

He had not done that in a game since the 2012 season before that. And he did it once that year, and once in the previous year. They won all of those games. As a matter of fact, the only game the Steelers have lost in a contest in which he attempted 20 or fewer passes was the first one he ever played in, which he was an injury replacement mid-game against the Ravens in his rookie season in 2004.


Every other time Roethlisberger has had the opportunity to throw infrequently in a game, it has universally correlated with a Steelers victory—and very often a comfortable one.

Indeed, Sunday’s game had a bit of an early Roethlisberger feel to it, and the Steelers’ offense is beginning to look more and more like that. It was dominated by a very good offensive line, supplemented by a very good running game, and that is the identity that the team has been adopting for themselves over the course of the past few months.

Since then, Roethlisberger’s pass attempts have been on the decline. In his first eight games, the only one in which he attempted fewer than 34 passes was the blowout against the Chiefs. He attempted at least 44 passes four times. Since then, the highest number of pass attempts he has had in a game has been 36.

Obviously, that has coincided with the Steelers running the ball with much greater frequently with Le’Veon Bell. A great deal of the load has been taken off of Roethlisberger’s shoulders, or at least shared, and the team has been better off for it. But when he has to throw it to win it, he is still more than capable of doing so.

About the Author

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

    Kudos to the FO for building a team that allows them to do this.

    I just keep scratching my head wondering why Rosie Nix doesn’t get more snaps. But I can’t question the outcome.

  • ayub

    I’m glad this was pointed out. I thought the same thing while watching the offense for 6-7 weeks now. Taking what the defense is giving them.

  • srdan

    I’m not sure it’s what the defense is giving them. Miami stacked the box on that third drive. We still took it to them.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Unfortunately throwing less passes has not eliminate the two or three picks per game. As is often said that’s Ben being Ben. Maybe he will get better with more experience. LOL

  • RickM

    The guy had 13 INT’s in 13 1/2 games this year. I get your desire to bash him, but at least have your facts right when you do.

  • pittfan

    Steeler Football

  • colingrant

    Timely article. When Ben mentioned last week that he wanted Bell to have a postseason, similar to that of Terrell Davis in Denver when Elway was no longer an elite quarterback and able to carry the team himself, I thought of a couple of things I thought it was somewhat insightful, but wondered if he thought of himself to be incapable of carrying the team. I thought…….no, he can’t be thinking that, but the truth is, Bell is at his peak and is more than likely to be a MAJOR difference in games moving forward.

    B U T……. Ben will determine if we are to win the Superbowl. As improved as the defense is, they’re not the 2015-16 Denver defense which is what is needed for a ground and pound type team to win a Superbowl. Ben will need to run the offense, make throws that only a few in the NFL can make to Brown and not turn the ball over. He’s the key, not Bell imo.

  • LHW

    He was kidding – get the “LOL?” And the guy did not state any facts actually get “right.” Lighten up, the original post was in jest. With that said, Ben does make some stupid throws. In the past few games he could have easily been picked 3-4 more times. I believe during the recent Bengals game he was real lucky.

  • Ralph Wagner

    How many INT’s he had during the season is irrelevant. This is the one and done part of the season. I prefer to live in the present not the past.
    Past stats are just that past stats. Hopefully no picks Sunday also hopefully they score touchdowns not field goals.

    Go Steelers

  • John Noh

    Agreed. There is nothing more inspiring than to watch the team in the heavy package (Nix + Hubbard) giving the Bell for many plays in a row with the opponent not being able to do a damned thing about it.

  • RickM

    Hardly, he was laughing at his comment that ‘maybe more experience will help him’. And if you want me to lighten up at Roethlisberger getting routinely bashed, don’t hold your breath. I criticize Ben’s home-road inconsistency regularly. But there is an army of ‘fans’ on this site who criticize him at every turn. I just have more appreciation for his HOF credentials.

  • RickM

    How many INT’s he had during the season isn’t relevant? Whatever. The O put up 30 points despite going conservative. But that’s still not good enough. Forget the 30 points, you’re just interested in two meaningless INT’s, one of which AB should have caught.

  • Ben has had moments of greatness mixed with a lot of WTF moments. It’s been a strange year with Ben. I keep thinking he’s going to have one of his epic games but for what ever reason he has been more erratic than usual. It’s great to have a crushing run game to help him. Hopefully he saved his epicness for KC and the Pats.

  • dany

    No denver defense but a much, much better running game to be sure. Ben stops trying to be superman and this team is unstoppable

  • thomas hmmmm

    This is great for the Defense. Nothing makes a defense better than a strong running game.
    I am all for low passing attempts and high rushing attempts. Ground and pound is the classic formula for winning the SB.

  • LHW

    I don’t care if you lighten up or not. I was just pointing out his humor and that there were no facts in his post. I am confident Ben will be in The Football Hall of Fame, and he should be. Regardless, he throws some of the dumbest interceptions thrown ever witnessed in professional football. His latest issue seems to be losing track of linebackers dropping into coverage. And his interceptions stand out so much because on the very next play he often makes a throw only a limited number of peers could make. Baffling.

  • RickM

    I agree completely about the inconsistency. Occasionally it’s protection (e.g Philly game), but most of it falls on Ben himself. I really don’t expect any epic games from him. Maybe if we had Green and Bryant playing it might happen because the receiving corps would be so strong, along with Bell of course. I just want a win, ugly or not.

  • Clutterbox

    Interesting stat I read this week, the Steelers are 7 – 0 when Ben throws less than 225 yards in post season games. They are 5 – 6 if he throws more. Obviously, Ben will be throwing more when they are behind, but it still an interesting stat none the less and it best not to put everything on his shoulders all the time.

  • Off the top of my head, it seems like in a typical healthy Ben season he is phenomenal in at least 1 out of 3-4 games with some solid efforts mixed with a few Bad Ben games sprinkled in. This year since the KC game I’ve been waiting for the great game from him but it just hasn’t happened.

  • PaeperCup

    Whatever it takes to win.

  • steelersfan

    I agree with the post…The thing is Bens playoff run in 2005 was virtually perfect up until the Super Bowl. We surprised teams by having him throw right out of the gate and he did it very well. He started out well this last game but he has to cut down on the picks. I know he led all the wild card QBs in that QBR stat but you throw a couple of those picks in the next three games against the chiefs, pats, and whoever the NFC champ is, and you are going home without a ring. It’s time for him to play the way we all know he can.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Grea stats and they make sense.

  • colingrant

    Off topic. That’s a helluva picture. He almost appears skinny. By the end of that game, Steelers nation was clued on the possibility that Ben was special. By the end of the year, everyone knew he was special.

  • RickM

    He’s inconsistent for sure. It’s on him – I don’t know if he mentally tunes out or what. I don’t play favorites with Roethlisberger. I said he stunk after the Buffalo game, I have long-criticized his road inconsistency. But there’s this Sports Illustrated part of our fan base that take potshots at him at every turn. Multiple players have critized the D this year – Heyward, Shazier and Roethlisberger. The only one who ever gets criticized for his comments is Roethlisberger.

    And now after a 30 point effort, an easy win and a 105 QB rating, someone says ‘throwing less passes doesn’t stop his 2 to 3 picks per game’. Roethlisberger will be retired soon enough and these ‘fans’ won’t have to put up with his poor performance. Personally, I’ll be hoping we can find someone with comparable ability.

  • Matthew Marczi

    11 and 12 personnel give them more flexibility to run or pass and defenses know this. On a good day though, he does see 15-20 snaps.

  • Jaybird

    He said Ben still throws two or three picks even with fewer attempts. That’s the fact that Ralph stated and it’s incorrect. Ben does not average two or three picks a game.

  • RickM

    I really think the revolving receiving corps hurt him a fair amount. I can’t remember, when Green was signed did we expect to have AB, Martavis, Wheaton, Coates and Green as our 2-16 starters? Is so, 3 of the 4 aren’t even playing and the 4th one has damaged fingers and hasn’t contributed. It really has been a first year with a whole bunch of new receivers.

  • Bill

    It seems the Steelers have been more successful when they were primarily a running team. Do you remember when Willy Parker said something to that effect and Tomlin made his typical Tomlinesk response about 5 Lombardis and not 5 rushing titles? He had to say something like that to punch home who the boss was, but considering the quality of the defense of that time, Parker was probably on target.

  • That is a really good point. It’s got to be hard to stay on the same page with different receivers every week.

  • Steeler-Drew

    I don’t think many appreciate that he has pretty much worked short handed all year. Coates was a true #2 for a handful of games and he got hurt. Green was that pass catching TE down the middle of the field for a handful of games and he got hurt. And he never had both of them on the field producing at the same time. He is working without a true #2 and a true pass catching TE but people expect the same the results.

  • Steeler-Drew

    I’m not sure I can go on this site 1 day without somebody bashing Ben. It’s getting pretty sickening actually. Some of the spoiled fan base don’t deserve to have a future HOFer as their QB. They deserve to suffer with the many average to below average QBs currently in the NFL. He could have a good game with a win this week but if he throws just 1 interception that may not even be his fault he still will get bashed. I thought the Steeler fan base was better than this.

  • RickM

    I very much agree that is what’s missed. Back when Ladarius was signed in early March, we assumed our five primary pass receivers would be: AB, Bryant, Wheaton, Coates and Green. Only AB has worked out. Ben is dealing with so many first-year, or back-up, receivers. As you say many don’t appreciate the quality lost and the challenges faced. I hate to say it, but in the end the loss of so many receivers could be the thing that beats us. Can you imagine how explosive we would be with AB, Bryant, Coates, Wheaton and Green all available? I think we would light up the scoreboard most games.

    I am worried about Ben practicing tomorrow. He didn’t take last Wednesday off and I’m worried that we are being spun with the ‘it’s no big deal’ stuff. I think he’ll play, but we need him to get some reps in. Hope he shows up on Thursday.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Could not agree more with both points. Teams were lucky it didn’t shake out that we would have all 5 weapons. And now we have 1 of the 5 to work with. Granted he’s the best receiver in the game but we have seen games where he was taken out and it resulted in a loss. Bell and Brown are both the best in the game but I’m not sure if they can get it done with this supporting cast.

    As for Green, If we do lose I think not having him and special teams could be the difference in the game. Hopefully they continue to run the ball effectively and the special teams doesn’t give up any big plays that cost us.