The Pittsburgh Steeler offense is in clear disarray. Last night against the Bengals, the offense put the vaunted Steelers defense in bad spots early in the game, allowing the Bengals to take advantage of short field opportunities.
The Steeler's first eight possessions consisted of 5 punts, 2 Fumbles, and an INT. They did not record a first down going three plays or less on each drive in their first five possessions.
The Steelers finally found some success early in the 3rd QTR, and the momentum appeared to swing back into their favor before the Bengals reeled off a nine-play 75-yard play drive to end the third QTR and take a 24-10 lead into the fourth. Around the 11 min mark of the 4th QTR, the Steelers would cut the deficit to one score. The defense would force a punt on the next drive, and the steelers would take over with an opportunity to tie the game. They would need to drive 76 yards to tie the game and would fail to do so, going four and out. The Bengals would seal the deal with a game-clinching FG.
The Steelers struggled against a Bengals defense that ranks at the bottom 3rd of the league in avg total yds to go defense, a stat we reference here at Football Scout 365 representing a team's ability or inability to sustain drives. There is a correlation between teams' success who consistently sustain drives and those who struggle to do so. The Bengals are a team that the Steelers should not have struggled against, even if they have issues running the football and sustaining drives on offense.
In 2020 the Steelers offense ranks at the bottom 3rd of the league in 1st down conv. rate (moving the chains), they rank in the middle 3rd in TD scoring rate.
The Steelers Predictability and Lack of A Serious Run Game
The Steelers are throwing the football at the 4th highest rate in the NFL (65%), on 2nd down, they are throwing it at a 63% rate (8th), and on combined 3rd and 4th down opportunities, they rank bottom third of the league in total first downs converted and rank near the bottom of the NFL in avg yds per att (3.6) even though they rank in the top third of the NFL in avg 3rd/4th down yds to go meaning they have done a decent job of staying on schedule. So what is truly amiss?
Ben Roethlisberger Is a Liability
In last night's game, he turned over the football two times, one fumble and an INT, both of which provided the Bengals with a short field in plus territory, allowing them to capitalize. Big Ben was bad in the first half, completing 7 of 16 for 19 yds. None of what I am writing about equates to championship football. The Steelers managed to lose this game against a backup QB who could only complete seven passes for 89 yards.
Big Ben's Air Yds Per Att This Season
Big Ben is having issues pushing the football vertical this season. He ranks at the bottom of the NFL in average completed air yds 4.5 yds per completion. His intended air yds per attempt ranks in the bottom 3rd of the league at 7.1 yds per att.
The Steelers Run Game Needs to Be Fixed
Championships are won and lost in the trenches, and if you are a contender or a fan of one, you want to see your run game get stronger towards the end of the season. The Steelers are not getting better; they are negatively regressing to the bottom of the league.
In the first eight weeks of the season, the Steelers averaged 4.1 yds per rush attempt; since week nine, the Steelers have dropped by -1.1 yds (bottom of NFL).
Play Action is The Key
The Steelers can be successful if they commit more to the run game; even if the run play only amounts to 3 yds per attempt, they need to utilize the run game, especially on early downs, in order to set up the play-action pass. When defenses can pin their ears back and be aggressive, expecting a pass at a high rate, they will inevitably be able to get pressure. That puts the offensive line, no matter how good they are, in a bad spot.
The Steelers rank last in the NFL in play-action pass plays in 2020. They are not even trying to throw the defense off with any run action post-snap. We can blame Ben for turnovers and his lack of pushing the ball vertical, but it doesn't help him that defenses can easily predict what is coming. Like their division counterparts (Baltimore and Cleveland), the Steelers will need to run the football if they plan to win the AFC North with games remaining against the Colts and the Browns.
Big Ben and Father Time
At 38 years old, Ben Roethlisberger has a lot of miles. He entered the league in 2004 and has thrown for 60K yds on nearly 7800 pass attempts. He has two Super Bowl rings in three appearances. The area where Big Ben lacks the most is his mobility and power as a runner. Big Ben is known for his ability to move around, power through a tackle, and make a big throw. He has not been bad in 2020, and he appears to be the best option at QB even if he is injured, and that is unfortunate for a steelers team who lacks in the run game.
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