What to Expect from Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers Offense in Week 7
Roethlisberger completed 76.7 percent of his passes and did not throw an interception. It was exactly the type of game he needed to get the Steelers back on track.
Even with Roethlisberger having his best game of the season, the Steelers picked up only 78 yards on the ground, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. A one-dimensional offense may have been enough to get by a New York Jets team that started a rookie quarterback.
That won’t be the case this week as Roethlisberger and the Steelers match up against the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Baltimore Ravens have won three straight regular-season games in Pittsburgh, but Roethlisberger has started only one of these games. In a 23-20 loss in 2011, Roethlisberger completed 20-of-37 passes for 330 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Over his last four starts against Baltimore, he has averaged over 37 pass attempts per game.
Do not expect this to change, as offensive coordinator Todd Haley has had the Steelers throwing the ball early and often so far this season.
Through five games this season, Pittsburgh has the seventh-ranked passing offense in the league averaging 277.6 yards per game. The Steelers aerial attack should match up well against a Baltimore defense which allows 254.3 yards per game through the air. Averaging more than 38 passing attempts per game, expect Roethlisberger to once again be throwing the ball all over the field.
Well, maybe not all over the field.
Over 50 percent of his pass attempts (97 targets) have gone to receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, who have combined for 64 receptions.
Brown has been the dominant force in the passing game with 41 receptions and has had no fewer than five receptions in any game this year. He has been outstanding over the past three games, tallying 30 receptions, which ties Hines Ward for the most receptions by a Steeler receiver in a three-game span, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette reported that Brown is Pro Football Focus’ top-rated wide receiver in the league (subscription required).
Besides the sheer number of receptions that he has put up each week, Brown has made the most of them as he leads the league in first-down catches.
Antonio Brown leads all NFL receivers with 28 first downs— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) October 16, 2013
Brown has been dangerous in the screen game, which in part explains his relatively low average of 12.1 yards per reception. He has averaged under 10 yards per catch in three games this year. However, the Steelers treat such throws as an extension of their ground attack.
Expect Roethlisberger to look towards Brown to be his top receiver yet again this week. He will need to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid an aggressive Ravens defense. Brown’s ability to do damage on bubble screens and other short routes will slow down the Baltimore pass rush.
Besides Brown, the Steelers have Sanders, who is a dangerous threat over the middle of the field but also has the speed to get deep. He demonstrated this when he beat Antonio Cromartie off of a play-action pass for a touchdown.
Given Pittsburgh's production throwing the ball this season, it is easy to understand why much of a defense's attention will focus on stopping the Pittsburgh passing game. But you also have to consider that the Steelers' ground attack continues to struggle. The Steelers rank 31st in the league with 61.0 rushing yards per game, and they have shown little signs of improvement.
Le’Veon Bell was supposed to be an upgrade over the other members of the backfield, but that improvement has not yet happened. He is second on the team with 91 yards but is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
Part of the problem is that Bell is not finding holes, and going up against the eighth-ranked rush defense will not make things any easier for the Steelers' offensive line.
Le’Veon Bell has missed the hole each of his last two carries. He’s had room. #Steelers— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) October 13, 2013
Tomlin is right: Le'Veon Bell didn't have much room to run but he also missed some holes as well. Not being critical. Just stating facts.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) October 15, 2013
Bell has carried the ball 16 times in each of his first two games and should see similar numbers this Sunday. The coaching staff has expressed enough confidence in Bell to give him some carries but not enough for him to carry the load.
Where the rookie can make a difference is in the screen game. He has seven receptions and has shown that he can work well in space. This is particularly important because the Steelers linemen struggle when it comes to blocking on screen passes.
One area that the line has shown improvement is in its pass-blocking.
After running around for much of the first half against the Jets, Roethlisberger was able to settle down and find time to throw from the pocket. In Week 7, he will once again have Kelvin Beachum protecting his backside.
Beachum took over for Mike Adams at left tackle and may have solidified himself as the starter, after the recently acquired Levi Brown was lost for the season, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
Steeler tackles will have their hands full with Baltimore's outside linebackers.
Beachum will be matched up against Elvis Dumervil, who has five sacks, while Marcus Gilbert will go against Terrell Suggs, who ranks fifth in the league with seven sacks. That should mean that Steeler tight ends will occasionally help the tackles in pass protection.
Heath Miller is always a dependable blocker, though he got beat for a sack against the Jets. David Johnson is another solid blocker, but he was placed on IR this week. Without Johnson, that may mean that the Steelers need to leave Miller in more often to help pass protect, thus removing him from the passing game.
At the end of the day, the Steelers will need to control Baltimore’s pass rush, and that will mean getting the ball out quickly and establishing enough of a ground game to slow down the Ravens' edge-rushers.
If the Steelers offense is able to get into a rhythm, it will be able to dictate the tempo of the game, much as it did against New York.
Taking care of the football will be critical too. As long as Roethlisberger and the offense aren’t forced into a mistake by the Ravens defense, they will have a good chance of winning their second in a row.
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