Devil’s Advocate: Too Deep Too Often

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Are the Steelers overly reliant on the deep passing game?

The deep pass is a tricky thing to pull off, for a number of reasons. It’s not a very easy thing to do, for one thing, provided that the defense doesn’t blow the coverage. Because of the distance involved, it takes time to deliver a pass down the field, and that gives the defense time to react to it.

Never mind the fact that you also have to be accurate with the deep pass. But by and large the Steelers have been a successful deep passing team over the course of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, and he has had some of his greatest successes in this department in recent years.

As has been recently noted, he has more touchdown passes on deep throws than any other quarterback in the league. If I recall correctly, Antonio Brown had one of, if not the most, receiving touchdowns on deep targets as well.

But when it doesn’t work, it has a tendency to set you back significantly, and we saw that during stretches last year, partly fueled by injury. We also so them struggle later in the year to convert in the red zone, which could have a sort of symbiotic relationship with the deep passing game.

One reason to pump the brakes on the discussion of the Steelers throwing the ball deep too often is the fact that they are getting a very prominent deep threat back this year in Martavis Bryant, and Sammie Coates could be another.

But perhaps a more judicious usage of the deep pass could be wise, if they continue to attack this way. A frequent target for a deep shot is in third and short. Not only is that difficult to pull off, it’s also become a part of their scouting report, making it more predictable to defend.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • falconsaftey43

    Yes, much too reliant on the “deep pass” and by that I mean balls going 30+ yards in the air. The connection rate is low. It’s high risk high reward. But when you have the talent to march down the field pretty much at will, the risk is too much IMO. Especially on 3rd and short. I’m all for it being a part of the offense, but it’s too big of a part IMO.

  • RickM

    I think he’s lost length on his deep ball. But we saw early last year with Coates how effective it could be. The two of them lit it up as we went 4-1. It has to be bombs away (within reason) IMO , especially when you have guys like Bryant and Coates on your team. That’s assuming Sammi is healthy of course.

  • Craig M

    I believe they are over reliant on their OCs strategy- that to me does not reach the ceiling of his (the OC) over all potential.

  • Flip Fisher

    Or how ineffective Sammy Stonehands can be due to his tendencies to not track the ball properly or use of his body to shield defenders. Let alone his issues with catching balls even before those mangled fingers came into play.

  • Mark

    Yes, too many times we need a simple 1st down to keep the drive going in our end of the field and keep the defense off the field. Ben is trying the low percentage deep pass instead of taking the 1st down with an easy underneath pass.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Years ago I was screaming for them to go deep more often. I got my wish but they sometimes go overboard as you do have to mix it up. Going deeep too often on 3rd and short can become predictable as well. Sometimes just getting the 1st down is the way to go.

    A couple of long time consuming TD drives can be extremely demoralizing for the opposition. There are lots of earlier downs to go deep and I would use them more instead of waiting for 3rd and short. Keep the opponents guessing.

  • RickM

    I’ll go with the glass half-full on Coates until proven otherwise in 2017. You can go with your negativity.

  • AndyR34

    “Going deep (sic) too often on 3rd and short” HAS become predictable, IMHO.

  • nikgreene

    I disagree. Throw it deep as long as you are converting at or above the league average conversion rate. It scares the hell out of defenses and will open up the field for Brown working underneath, Rogers/Juju, TE’s down the seam, not to mention the running game. Just my two pennies.

  • mem359

    I’d be happier with more of the intermediate passes (10-15 yards in the air) that Ben hit with high efficiency in his first two seasons. Something that will still open up the box (for the run), but is more reliable in moving the chains than bombs-away.

  • Rob

    I don’t think the team is too reliant per se. I just think that was the best trick our personnel had at times last year. When Coates and Green went down, I would venture to reason that so did the amount of deep passes to players not named AB.

    If you have players who can win deep, you go deep, if you don’t then you don’t. I think it’s that simple.

  • Ace

    You need to swap those three reasons around a bit if you are listing them as primary reasons to secondary reasons. He was perfectly fine the first 5 games at shielding and tracking. In fact, led the league in YPC by a wide margin. The reason he struggled, and I would say the only reason, was the hand injury. The dude lost a hand mid way through his breakout season. A receiver catches with his hands. He lost one. I mean, come on, calling the guy Stonehands is a little harsh. I’m not in the business of protecting guys feelings, but as a fan of the team and the sport, you should be able to realize how much that injury affected him. If anyone out there thinks that injury isn’t the sole reason he fell off then they have no clue how sports work. If Billy Hamilton broke 3 of his toes and all of the sudden had difficulty stealing bases would you call him ‘Billy what-the-hell-ever’ or would you point to the injury? Get a clue.

  • Kevin Artis

    Yes. It’s more like we are using it at the wrong time. 3rd and short is not the time throw need regardless of the coverage. If you are going to do it make it either 1st or 2nd down.
    The most important piece to this is to keep the drive alive and continue to move down the field.

  • Robert E Lil

    I wish I knew the numbers better
    But when it is 3rd and short most Steeler fans know what’s coming.
    And the NE game was just a maddening culmination

  • falconsaftey43

    I’d use the deep ball on 3rd and short as something to do when the offense has been struggling, take a chance then. If they’ve been moving it well, just keep doing that instead of taking a risk of it not working.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Take what is given; if Martavis is streaking downfield wide open on 3rd & short; take the shot. If Jesse James is sitting two yards down the field on 3rd and one; take the first down. Just don’t throw into coverage if you have another guy wide open.

    All that said; use Le’Veon Bell to your advantage.

  • cencalsteeler

    If the Defense had a “tribal council” and secretly voted, my hunch would be that the deep ball on third and short would be voted out.

  • Alan Tman

    Yes we have to make defenses cover the whole field. It’s sad when the Bengals can sit in a cover 2 and shut this offense down. No steady defense should be able to shutdown this offense. If they have to respect the run game (inside and outside), play action, short passing game, seam passes, and the deep ball is how you stress a defense. Too many deep balls stresses your own defense too. You have to win time of possession too. We did a poor job of that too, especially in Miami last year.

  • Verbal Assassin

    I see them as a modern day version of St. Louis ‘Fastest Show on Turf’. Not the best defense, but solid enough to not lose the game, but they could outscore anybody at any given moment. The Steelers are deeper than that Rams team. I think a lot depends on the 2nd RB and what we’re going to get out of Bell if he holds out, but his team is primed to make a legit run this season. Should be a fun season.

  • Jeff McNeill

    I agree that his deep ball is starting to go away from him.

  • Jeff McNeill

    I used to close my eyes in the 90s when they threw to Dwight “hand of” Stone.

  • walter

    Did he catch the ball in the photo above? Just curious

  • RickM

    Yes, it’s too bad but age and thousands of passes weaken every QB’s arm and shoulder over time. He’s still capable, but it used to be so easy and he would drop some of them in there perfectly with the guy not even breaking stride. That’s rare now though on the deep ones.