PITTSBURGH — When Ben Roethlisberger said on his radio show last week that he wanted a rematch with the Jaguars, it got the attention of a Jacksonville defense eager to prove those five interceptions weren’t a fluke.
The Steelers quarterback’s play has improved dramatically since Pittsburgh’s Week 5 home loss in which he tossed those five picks, fueling the confidence to call for that rematch in Sunday’s AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
Roethlisberger now is one of the league’s hottest quarterbacks, with 325 yards per game and 16 total touchdowns over his past six games.
“He’s locked everybody in,” said Pittsburgh guard Ramon Foster.
Here are a few ways Roethlisberger can put together a cleaner performance this time against Jacksonville, one of the best defenses he’ll face.
Not forcing the issue
Roethlisberger’s first pick from Week 5 shows backup running back James Conner failing to pick up a blitz, forcing Roethlisberger to misfire to an open Vance McDonald and letting Jalen Ramsey get back into the play.
Without the hit, Roethlisberger would likely have made the proper throw. But the Steelers’ backfield blocking is better now, and with Roethlisberger’s 12 sacks since that game, he has gone down when an easy play is out of reach. That’s a good thing. He has limited turnovers as a result, throwing 22 touchdowns to seven interceptions in his final 10 games of the year.
Playing the percentages
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith dropped into coverage for an easy interception on Roethlisberger’s pass attempt to Antonio Brown. It was a difficult throw to make, even for a quarterback of Roethlisberger’s arm strength.
Now, Roethlisberger will still take the calculated risk on occasion, but he’s playing the percentages more, which has helped his play.
Roethlisberger has stressed in recent weeks that he’s throwing passes based on the weakness he sees in a defense. With playmakers all over the field, that’s the best option: a combination of safe throws that elicit yards after the catch and a more potent deep ball. Roethlisberger likes to get these easy throws through the no-huddle offense, which seems to spark his confidence and timing.
Effective screen game
Much was made of Le’Veon Bell‘s modest 15 carries for 47 yards against Jacksonville, but just as important were Bell’s 10 catches for 46 yards (4.6 yards per catch). When Roethlisberger is at his best, Bell is getting easy chunk yardage in the passing game.
That has been happening late in the season, with Bell averaging 8.9 yards per catch (404 yards over 45 receptions) since Week 11. That’s about an extra 30 yards per game that Roethlisberger didn’t have earlier in the season. Bell’s backfield work gives the quarterback more options downfield.