Why the Pittsburgh Steelers have seen so many passes batted at the line of scrimmage
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been seeing Ben Roethlisberger’s passes being batted at the line of scrimmage at a very high rate this season.
A friend of mine brought this up to me after Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception in Week 7. He asked me why I think Ben’s passes have been getting swatted by defensive linemen so much this year. While the Pittsburgh Steelers have seen Roethlisberger go through this in the past, it seems like he is dealing with it much more often this season. So I sat down and watched some replays of some of these attempts.
Let’s focus on the one Jayon Brown hauled in off the tip in Week 7.
After watching the clip there are a few things we saw. First, that was the correct choice by Ben. Jonathan Joseph is playing off on Diontae Johnson who is just running a simple 5-yard hitch. He is going to be open if you get the ball out quickly. The Titans are showing blitz and as long as Kenny Vaccaro stays on Ebron it is a safe quick throw against the blitz for 5 yards on a first down play.
Vaccaro picks up Ebron and Joseph is late on breaking to the ball so it looks like a good play. Jeffery Simmons, the successor to Jurrell Casey, is long and has picked up some tricks from the former Pro-Bowler before Casey was traded. He makes a great play to tip it and when Jayon Brown stops his delayed blitz he finds the tipped ball for an interception.
Bottom line is that Ben did nothing wrong on this play. He has to keep this ball low to make sure Joseph can’t make a play on the ball and doing this also allows Diontae Johnson the ability to protect himself from the hit that is coming. If Ben puts it high so it isn’t tipped, then it will take too long to get to his receiver and it will be an interception, or Diontae Johnson is in for a world of hurt.
A lot of the deflections at the line Ben is dealing with are coming from this short passing game. Roethlisberger has to keep the ball low to protect his players whether it is over the middle of the field, or on the sideline when the opposing corner has a straight line and a head of steam towards the receiver. Furthermore, if these quick throws linger in the air then they will result in interceptions.
Just because the ball is low doesn’t mean it will always be tipped. This is a huge compliment to Jeffery Simmons’ athleticism and his ability to study film. T.J. Watt picked off a quick throw with a similar idea on an out route in Week 1 vs the Giants.
Daniel Jones gets the snap and immediately throws a quick out that T.J. had timed and it resulted in a pick. Remember, Jones had been getting going much throughout this game, beating our pass rush with these quick darts on pre-snap reads.
If defenses start recognizing the plays that the offense is calling, then they can time their jumps to swat these balls down. This doesn’t mean that the Steelers should stop using these quick passes. Yet, they need to start mixing it up a little more. When they line up in these formations they have to start switching up some of the calls to keep defenses honest and not let them get the timing down on these throws.
Randy Fichtner has done an amazing job with this offense this year making them 6th in the league in points per game. He has been mixing up the passes, runs, and sweeps incredibly well and this new look motion offense is very impressive. However, they need to mess with this short passing game a little more, because the Titans almost had it figured out by the end of the game.