Remember last season when it seemed like the Steelers were pretty terrible on 3rd down? I remember a Bruce Arians’ offense running plays that never really put receivers ‘beyond the sticks’ or running Mendenhall straight up the gut for no gain on a short 3rd down. Well so far in 2012, the Steelers are very good on 3rd down. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger has the best passer rating in the league when it comes to 3rd down. And, it’s not likely to change any time in the near future.
The Steelers are a whopping 19 of 34 (56%) on 3rd downs this season. Ben Roethlisberger has been lethal on 3rd downs – he is 19-for-25 (76 percent) for 251 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a rating of 146.8. Now I’ve never been a fan of ‘passer rating’ figures, but the proof is in the pudding as it were. Did any of you notice that all of the Steelers successful 3rd down conversions have come from Big Ben passing the ball? Why is it that Ben is so successful on 3rd down early on this season?
First, let me throw out there (pun intended? You be the judge) that the majority of the Steelers’ 3rd downs have been over 5 yards. Ineffective running on second down has left the team in long third down situations – which makes Ben’s efficiency on 3rd down that much more impressive.
The Crisco Kid: Roethlisberger has slipped his way out of more would be sacks than a skinny kid slicked up with Crisco. Leg grabs, jersey pulls, shoulder grabs – Ben has slipped through many of them and scrambled out of the pocket. It’s almost as if somehow he has stepped up this part of his game if you can even think that possible. With his Spidey Senses tingling, Ben scrambles out of the pocket on third down and extends the play. Even though the Steelers line is struggling, they’ve only given up four sacks in two games. Now that may seem like a lot, but not for the Steelers. Less sacks = a better chance at converting 3rd down.
Great vision and fast receivers: It’s one thing to be able to escape the pass rush and run for
your life the sidelines. But, to be able to find an open receiver after having emerged from a 3,000lb. wall collapsing around you is harder than it looks. Ben is able to find an open black and gold jersey and hit him for a first down. It also helps to have guys like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as your receivers. Their speed makes it difficult for the secondary to keep up with them once the pocket begins to break down. It also gives more room for Heath Miller, who’s been a favorite of Ben so far this season.
Haley’s play calling: You may be able to scramble and you might have good vision, but if your offensive coordinator doesn’t call plays that at least gets players beyond the first down marker then you’ll have as much a chance of converting third down than hillbillies have as much chance of being called sons of the soil. Haley’s third downs are scripted to spread defenses and find holes in the zones. Not every play is a stroke of genius, but I think he’s using the KISS rule when it comes 3rd down play calling.
The high conversion rate for the Steelers in general aids their time of possession. The Steelers have out possessed the football 71:00 to 41:00. That’s a full half of football. Astounding in my opinion. That stat there keeps the other team’s defense on the field, thus tiring them out. Did you notice all the poor tackling going on near the end of the game by the Jets? Fatigue, folks. It also keeps our aged defense off the field and refreshed.
Now if only the offense can translate all these third downs and time of possession into points – I’ll hit that tomorrow.