Four Downs: Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger not holding onto ball
1. Quick slinger
The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has earned plenty of praise this season, and for good reason. Only three teams have allowed fewer sacks. Footballoutsiders.com ranks the Steelers second in the NFL in pass protection and No. 4 in power run blocking. Pro Football Focus rates the Steelers second in pass blocking and 11th in run blocking.
But when it comes to pass protection, the linemen have an advantage. No quarterback in the league gets rid of the ball faster than Ben Roethlisberger. The NFL’s passing yardage leader, Roethlisberger has been throwing passes an average of 2.56 seconds from the time of snap.
For comparison, the Los Angeles Rams also are in the top 10 of the league in fewest sacks allowed. But their quarterback, Jared Goff, is forcing his offensive line to protect him for an average of 2.97 seconds per throw, an average of 16 percent longer.
Of course, the sacrifice for not holding onto the ball long is not throwing the ball too far.
And with the sizable exception of Antonio Brown, Steelers receivers and tight ends are catching passes closer to the line of scrimmage than any group in the league.
Among receivers, Ryan Switzer has the fewest average targeted air yards (the yards downfield at the time of passing attempts the receiver is the target) at 3.9, according to Next Gen Stats.
Among tight ends, Vance McDonald is targeted the second shallowest downfield (5.3), and Jesse James is also in the top 10 at 5.8 average targeted air yards.
Interestingly — and in spite of his NFL season-long 97-yard reception and four catches of 40 or more yards — even JuJu Smith-Schuster is among the top 20 among receivers (8.5).
3. Scorin’ Sammy
Want a good omen for the Steelers’ new No. 1 running back this week? In each of the two NFL games in which Jaylen Samuels has had five touches from scrimmage, he has scored a touchdown. Dating to his college career, Samuels has a touchdown in 17 of his past 20 games in which he has at least five carries/catches.
Over his sophomore through senior seasons at N.C. State, Samuels averaged a touchdown every eight touches. In his short NFL career, Samuels has roughly kept that pace, scoring an average of every 9.5 touches.
In a small illustration of Samuels’ unique talents, he was measured by Next Gen Stats as the Steelers’ fastest ball-carrier (19.55 mph) last week against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. And that’s for a player who was considered a tight end in college.
4. Busy rookie
Terrell Edmunds has played the 10th-most plays (907) of any player in the NFL, according to footballoutsiders.com. Not projected as an immediate starter after being drafted in the first round, Edmunds trails fellow safety Sean Davis among Steelers for most defensive snaps (723). Edmunds also has played the sixth-most special teams snaps (184), but that’s easily the most of any starter.
Edmunds has played 90.3 percent of the defensive snaps. That’s the highest percentage of snaps on offense or defense by a Steelers rookie since at least 2011 and likely since Maurkice Pouncey started all 16 games at center as a rookie in 2010. The highest percentage since then was Artie Burns’ 77.4 percent in 2016.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.