The Roethlisberger Resurgence

The Pittsburgh Steelers face the New York Jets Sunday seeking their fourth straight win after a 3-3 start. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has led the resurgent offense. Mark Schofield breaks down a key passing play from last weekend’s 43-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

In the wake of their 31-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, pundits and fans declared the Pittsburgh Steelers in trouble, warming the seats under head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Pittsburgh’s offensive line was leaky, young players were making mistakes and the play calls were puzzling.

Fast-forward three weeks and Pittsburgh has righted the ship with improved execution, stability along the offensive line and development of its young wide receivers. This has allowed Ben Roethlisberger to do what the quarterback does best: Stand tall in the pocket and deliver perfect throws down the field. This play from Sunday night against the Ravens illustrates how Tomlin, Haley and Roethlisberger have been creating beautiful offensive football.

The Protection

After Baltimore’s Justin Tucker delivered a 46-yard field goal to trim the Steelers’ lead to four with 1:46 remaining in the first half, Pittsburgh responded with a quick scoring drive. Facing 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 47-yard line with 1:01 left in the 2nd quarter, Haley puts his QB in the shotgun with 11 personnel splitting second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton wide to the right. The Ravens defense counters with a sub package showing Cover 3 in the secondary and a blitz posture:

From the end zone view we see Baltimore’s array with six defenders on the line of scrimmage. Steelers tight end Heath Miller is to the right of the offense in a wing alignment:

As the play begins we see rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley (#57) moving right to cover the running back one-on-one while fellow LB Daryl Smith (#51) drops into an underneath spy position. In addition, there is a double-team on each edge – Miller and right tackle Marcus Gilbert eliminate Elvis Dumervil with the TE taking the lead:


On the other side, Terrell Suggs is swallowed up by left tackle Kelvin Beachum and left guard Ramon Foster. Inside, both Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee are stonewalled by center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro, respectively:

The Steelers have given their quarterback a completely clean pocket:

The Route

Wheaton’s physical gifts are obvious and the young WR displays his blazing speed on this route. On the boundaries of Baltimore’s Cover 3 alignment, each cornerback gives the receiver eight yards of cushion. Safety Darian Stewart (circled in black) will rotate to the deep middle zone while safety Matt Elam (circled in white) will come forward and play rover technique:

Off the snap of the football both outside WRs execute vertical routes. At the top of the screen CB Lardarius Webb recognizes the Wheaton’s pattern and flips his hips, trying to sprint and stay with the receiver. But then Wheaton eliminates the big cushion:

As Roethlisberger unloads, Wheaton and Webb are racing alongside each other. Now, having already closed the gap, the receiver is about to separate from his defender:

With the ball in flight, Wheaton blows past Webb and is ready for the big catch and score:

The Throw

With a comfortable pocket and a perfect route from his receiver, Roethlisberger now has to deliver the football:

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The QB supplies a perfect strike that travels 50 yards in the air, coming to rest safely in Wheaton’s hands. From snap to score this is exquisite execution from Todd Haley’s offense:

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Since the Cleveland loss the Steelers have won three straight and now stand mere percentage points behind the Bengals in the AFC North. In those three victories Roethlisberger has thrown 14 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions with a quarterback rating above 113.8 in each game. If the Pittsburgh offense continues to execute at this high level, Pittsburgh will be a force in December and beyond.

All video and images courtesy and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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