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Pittsburgh Steelers Must Find a Way to Keep 1st Half Close in New England

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on October 27, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Andrea HangstContributor IISeptember 14, 2016

To say that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a problem getting going in the first half of games this year is to state the obvious. It is no coincidence that, in the team's two wins this season, the Steelers led at halftime. In their five losses, they either trailed or were tied at the break. 

This week's latest attempt to turn their season around takes place in New England against the 6-2 Patriots.

Unlike the Steelers, the Patriots have had no trouble building a halftime lead and maintaining it throughout the rest of the game. The Patriots also have a winning record and control of their division.

Only once this season have the Patriots trailed at halftime—in Week 8 in what became a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins after trailing 17-3 at the half. They've been tied at the half twice, with the result ultimately being one win and one loss. 

Steelers, 1st Half & Final Scores, 2013
Game1st HalfFinal
vs. Tennessee7-2 TenL, 16-9
at Cincinnati10-10 TieL, 20-10
vs. Chicago24-20 ChiL, 40-23
at Minnesota20-10 MinL, 34-27
at Jets9-6 PitW, 19-6
vs. Baltimore10-6 PitW, 19-16
at Oakland21-3 OakL, 21-18
Averaging 7.1 points in first half, 2013

The Patriots don't lose hold of leads while the Steelers haven't been all that capable of establishing them in the first half. However, the Steelers must play well in the first 30 minutes of Sunday's contest if they're going to have a chance of winning. 

About half—12.5—of New England's 22.4 points per game have come in the first half this year, while the Steelers have managed an average of just seven points in the first half and no more than 10 in any one game. 

What's so baffling about this is that Pittsburgh's passing offense hasn't been bad in the first half. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a first-half completion percentage of 68.4, completing 88 of his 115 passes.

However, he has only three first-quarter passing touchdowns this season, along with two interceptions and 14 sacks. 

Oct 27, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) hands off the ball to running back Le'Veon Bell (26) during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Part of this failure to score has to do with the Steelers' inability to run the ball effectively. They have run the ball 81 times in the first half this year, with an average of 3.1 yards per rush. The ground game has also produced only one first-half touchdown.

This has put the Steelers in obvious passing situations when they reach the red zone, and this kind of predictability has resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns—eight in nine first-half attempts.

In total, the Steelers are scoring touchdowns on only 40 percent of their red-zone appearances this year, ranking a disappointing 30th in the league.

Running the ball well will be key if the Steelers want to do better at putting up first-half points against New England. Though their offensive line issues won't likely magically melt away on Sunday, this game does present an opportunity for better rushing, as the Patriots defense does not defend the run well.

Patriots, First-Half & Final Scores, 2013
Game1st HalfFinal
at Buffalo17-14 PatsW, 32-21
vs. Jets13-3 PatsW, 13-10
vs. Tampa Bay17-3 PatsW, 23-3
at Atlanta10-10 TieW, 30-23
at Cincinnati3-3 TieL, 13-6
vs. New Orleans17-7 PatsW, 30-27
at Jets21-10 PatsL, 30-27
vs. Miami17-3 MiaW, 27-17
Averaging 12.5 points in first half, 2013

On average, the Patriots are giving up a 31st-ranked 130.8 rushing yards per game. They have allowed 154.7 rushing yards per game over their last three contests and gave up 156 last week to the Miami Dolphins.

Though the Steelers have just one game with a rushing performance above 100 yards, they could easily have a second on Sunday.

The Steelers have been suffering from too-little-too-late syndrome all season long. Down 24-10 at halftime in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, the Steelers rallied in the second half to add 13 points to their total. Unfortunately, the Bears didn't stop scoring and the Steelers lost 40-23. 

Against the Minnesota Vikings in their next game, the Steelers were down 20-10. Again, they bounced back in the second half, but it wasn't enough, eventually losing 34-27.

It happened again last week against the Oakland Raiders, with Oakland having a 21-3 lead at halftime. Though the Steelers didn't allow the Raiders to score a single second-half point, their own 15 second-half points weren't enough to get the win.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Jerome Simpson #81 of the Minnesota Vikings is tackled by cornerback Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the NFL International Series game between Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings at Wem
Michael Steele/Getty Images

If the Steelers offense cannot do what it takes to keep the game close or get a lead by halftime, then it will be up to their defense to hold Tom Brady and the New England offense to few or no points. However, the Steelers have already given up 20 or more points to their opponents by halftime three times this year. 

The Patriots have 760 passing yards and six passing touchdowns in the first half of games this year, along with 479 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. They, too, are 8-of-9 in first-half field-goal attempts.

Though not the offensive juggernaut of years past, the Patriots still know how to move the ball down the field and—most importantly—get touchdowns out of their red-zone appearances, with a touchdown rate of 50 percent.

The best bet for the Steelers is for their offense to get off to a hot start on Sunday. It will put them in a better situation by halftime against the dangerous Patriots and, most importantly, prove that they can indeed get significant points on the board in the first two quarters.

This is what has been lacking the most for the Steelers this year. It is the No. 1 way they can not only stay competitive with New England this week, but also have a successful second half of the season.

While it may be popular to say, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," the opposite has been the case for the Steelers this year.

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