The Steelers’ defense has been a dominant storyline of the 2020 season so far, and deservedly so. The Steelers have a roster loaded with playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and rank in the top 10 in almost every category. However, the Steelers’ offense is playing at an elite level and deserves as much credit as the defense for their 7-0 start.
The Steelers struggled when Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury in 2019. Mason Rudolph and Devin Hodges finished the season with a combined 18 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and a last-place finish in the NFL in red-zone scoring. This year, the Steelers have made it a priority to keep Roethlisberger healthy and on the field. When Roethlisberger is playing the Steelers will always be a threat to come out of the AFC North, even if he isn’t the same player he was 10 years ago. The Steelers are executing an offense that is perfect for keeping Roethlisberger healthy, while utilizing the talent around him. Roethlisberger is not asked to do much but his presence, leadership, and execution of the game plan has led the Steelers to be the last undefeated team in the NFL.
Through eight weeks of the 2020 season, Roethlisberger has the quickest time to throw in the league. At 2.29 seconds per throw, this is 0.1 seconds ahead of the second-fastest thrower, Dwayne Haskins. This time to throw is actually so quick that it is on pace to be the lowest figure since Next Gen Stats started keeping track of the stat in 2016. Roethlisberger has been one of the five quickest throwers in six of seven games so far (Week 1 is the exception) and has really come into form the last three weeks, when he has been the quickest to get rid of the ball by a significant margin. While Roethlisberger has always been among the quickest to get rid of the ball in the NFL, he has shaved a significant amount of time off his average this year and has lowered his average depth of throw.
Having this as a priority does a couple things for the Steelers offense. It keeps Roethlisberger from sustaining unnecessary wear and tear and gets the ball to his explosive playmakers. The Steelers possess some of the youngest and most exciting weapons on offense in the league. These are guys that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner wants to get in space with the ball in their hands, in position to make plays. Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and James Conner are all 25 years old or younger and are excellent at creating space. Four different receivers have led the Steelers in receiving yards in a game through seven games, making it especially difficult for opposing defenses to gameplan.
The Week 7 win against the Titans is a great example of what the Steelers want to do:
- Roethlisberger’s time to throw was 2.05 seconds. This was the lowest in the league by 0.36 seconds (Ryan Tannehill was second).
- The average intended depth of the target was only 5.6 yards past the line of scrimmage, which was also the lowest in the NFL for Week 7.
- On passes of 10 or less yards downfield, Roethlisberger completed 29 of 33 attempts (88%) for 2 TDs and 1 INT
- On passes 10 yards or further downfield, Roethlisberger completed 3 of 11 attempts (27%) for 0 TDs and 2 INTs
- Four of five receivers and tight ends recorded above the league average in yards of separation at the time of the reception or incompletion
Roethlisberger and the Steelers found efficiency in their short passing attack in Tennessee. The Steelers did struggle in the third quarter to move that ball, but it is clear that when they play to their strengths of running the ball and quickly getting the ball to the outside, it is difficult to stop. On throws of 20 yards or further, Roethlisberger completed 0 of 3 passes with 2 INTs. Even if Roethlisberger is past his prime and doesn’t have the same ability to push the ball downfield that he once had, the Steelers are excelling in a way that limits his exposure and puts him in a position to succeed. The Steelers are currently fifth in the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game and they are doing so in a sustainable fashion that does not rely on big plays, although Roethlisberger can improve his consistency half-to-half and the receivers can work on drops. While the defense is getting all the credit, the Steelers offense deserves its shine. This looks like the most balanced team in the NFL.