The Pittsburgh Steelers offense, built around future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, is as dynamic as they come. This offense also features a very reliable and consistent offensive line, arguably the league’s best wide receiver and running back. Currently, the Steelers are leaning on the offense to put up monster points and stay very difficult to keep up with. In 2016 at 24.9 points per game, they tied for 10th in the NFL with Buffalo. Not exactly “elite” company. Why didn’t this high powered offense translate to high powered points? The answer is simply the Red Zone.
What is the Red Zone exactly?
The Red Zone, or money zone as some call it, is when the offense is between the 20-yard line and the goal line. It is more difficult to score in this area because the lack of space makes it easier to defend and it limits the diversity of the offense’s play calling.
What do the stats say?
– Overall in 2016, the Steelers were 10th in points scored
– 7th in total yards and yards per game.
– In 2016, the Steelers were 12th in the NFL in reference to scoring by touchdown in the Red Zone.
– In the Red Zone, the Steelers scored 12 touchdowns by rush and 16 by pass.
– When the Steelers were in the Red Zone in 2016, a touchdown was scored just 59.18% of the time.
Why have the Steelers struggled? This can be answered from multiple angles, so I will put together a few:
Home vs. Away:
At home in 2016, the Steelers were 2nd in the league in Red Zone touchdown efficiency, scoring a touchdown in the Red Zone 73.08% of the time, up 13.9% from their season average. When the Steelers were away, they were 27th in the NFL in Red Zone touchdown efficiency, scoring a touchdown in the Red Zone 43.48% of the time, down 15.7% from their season average.
Although he is not the sole reason for the drop off, Roethlisberger’s play takes a noticeable decline when playing on the road. Here are a few Roethlisberger statistics:
– His completion percentage dropped from 70.8% at home to 59.4% on the road.
– In 6 games at home: 20 TD, 5 INT, QBR of 116.7, sacked 7 times.
– In 8 games on the road: 9 TD, 8 INT, QBR of 78.4, sacked 10 times.
As you can see, Roethlisberger’s play on the road directly reflects the play of the offense on the road as well.
The Steelers really struggled in short yardage situations in the Red Zone. I believe this was due to the team’s neglected use of fullback and excellent blocker Roosevelt Nix. Although Nix was banged up, he was not used when healthy. Also neglected was tight end Jesse James, who stands at 6’7” and has a vertical of 37.5”. He is essentially 10 feet tall when he jumps and would be a skyscraper of a target, but was not utilized.
Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley’s play calling seemed to have a downward spiral when the team entered the Red Zone. There were a lot of low percentage throws into the end zone on third downs instead of making the first down a priority. This results in three points instead of 7.
Suspensions to Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell sure do hurt. Injuries to Sammie Coates, Ladarius Green and Markus Wheaton put a damper on the success of the offense. Bryant, Coates and Green are both big targets and Bell is a scoring threat from anywhere, both in the run and pass game.
With Bryant’s return, I expect the Red Zone offense to improve. Bryant’s absence was not the only reason this team struggled in the Red Zone, though. The team must get better scoring touchdowns in the Red Zone on the road, being 28th in the NFL in this situation. I think this is the most daunting stat and the one that hurt this team the most. Haley must conjure up better game plans and personnel usage to play to the Steelers strengths. Relying on Roethlisberger in the Red Zone too much can make it easier for defenses to defend. Haley must be creative here. I would use Nix in short yardage or goal line situations, he is an effective blocker. With most of the attention and talent directed towards Antonio Brown, Bell and Bryant, I am desperate to see Jesse James utilized more in the Red Zone. The addition of JuJu Smith-Schuster should really help. With his tenacious and effective run blocking skills paired with his no-fear mentality across the middle and reliability in 50/50 passes, he could be a real asset. With the Steelers offense finally now operating at full force with Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and Bryant all in the mix, what once was a struggle may now translate into a strength.