The Pittsburgh Steelers are loaded with weapons. They have a franchise quarterback, one of the fastest players in the league at receiver, a versatile running back and a dependable tight end.
So why is it that the Steelers rank 19th in the league in scoring at 21.2 points per game? Looking at last week’s game the scoring problems can be placed directly on their red-zone efficiency.
Pittsburgh does not score enough touchdowns when down inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
For the season, Pittsburgh has converted on 18-of-37 red-zone attempts. Under 50 percent for a team with this much talent is unacceptable.
This nearly cost them the game last week at Kansas City as Pittsburgh was only able to put 13 points on the board and failed to score touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the red zone.
Early in the game Pittsburgh had the ball inside the Chiefs’ 10-yard line and failed to score after Mike Wallace dropped what looked to be an easy touchdown. Mewedle Moore went on to fumble the ball which was recovered by Kansas City for a touchback.
Improved efficiency in the red zone against the Chiefs could have meant a blowout.
Against the New England Patriots this season the Steelers dominated but struggled to finish the game. Though they came away with a 25-17 victory, Pittsburgh converted on only 2-of-5 attempts in the red zone.
The very next week the red zone cost the Steelers the game, and maybe the division championship, against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers only went 1-of-4 in the red zone and lost by a final score of 23-20 following a last second touchdown pass by Joe Flacco.
A major part of the red-zone struggles comes from the weakness on the offensive line and lack of commitment to the ground game.
Pittsburgh will find themselves looking to go for the score from 10 yards out rather than try to pick up chunks of yardage. Of course, they struggle in picking up more than one or two yards on run plays this deep in their opponent’s territory.
If it is not the lack of a running game then it is Ben Roethlisberger getting pressured and even sacked, particularly on third downs.
Pittsburgh needs to get around these two weaknesses and they need to use their players to their strengths and not always go for the end zone shot on first down.
Bruce Arians has a plethora of talent to work with and Roethlisberger needs to recognize that a short pass on first or second down can put them in better position to score. In other words, they do not need to score on one play, though if they did is there any better receiver in the league at going over the middle in the end zone than Hines Ward?
When not looking towards Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are all excellent after the catch, particularly the first two with rare acceleration that can beat most defenders.
Quick, short passes to any of these three could pick up chunks of yardage to put Pittsburgh in better position to score. All are capable of breaking a tackle or putting on a move to potentially even score from inside the 10 on a quick slant.
Speaking of putting on moves, the Steelers have three talented running backs who have the skill set to catch the ball out of the backfield, yet they are rarely used in the passing game that close to the goal line.
Rashard Mendenhall is shifty and quick while Isaac Redman is surprisingly nimble and can run through tackles. Moore has a knack for finding open space as well.
Maybe most frustrating is the lack of roll outs near the end zone. Teams score touchdowns on passes to their tight ends on roll outs every week.
Pittsburgh has two pretty good receiving tight ends in Heath Miller and Weslye Saunders. Saunders finally picked up his first touchdown reception last week.
Worst of all, however, is the empty backfield set. There is nothing like telling the defense that you are going to throw the ball that close to the goal line. A well-designed draw can be deadly in this area of the field.
Regardless of what the answers are, however, Pittsburgh needs to improve their red-zone production. That is the only way that they can score more points and avoid the nail-biters that we all watched last week.
Pittsburgh needs to quit settling for three and start putting touchdowns on the scoreboard.
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