If you’re looking for the one area of the AFC Championship Game to focus then look no further than the Red Zone. This is likely the one part of the game where it could ultimately be decided and no one knows it more than the Steelers. It has been a significant Achilles’ Heel in recent playoff appearances and it has to get better if Pittsburgh is to advance to the Super Bowl.
Since Todd Haley became the Offensive Coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, the team has played in five postseason games. In those games the Steelers are 3-2 and are averaging 19.8 points per game. The defense is giving up 19.4 points per game so you can see there is a very small margin of error.
Also in those five games, the offense has scored a grand total of seven touchdowns while adding 17 field goals. That ratio is not going to get you very far and certainly won’t against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
These issues point to an overwhelming problem for Haley’s offense; it just isn’t good in the Red Zone.
Looking back over Haley’s five stints as the OC in the Steelers’ postseason, you’ll note that the team’s Red Zone Percentage is quite awful. In 17 trips, the Steelers have hit pay dirt just five times. That’s a percentage of just over 29% which is disturbingly bad. This cannot entirely fall on the hands of Haley however.
As the OC, it’s Haley’s job to get guys into position for success and when he does, they don’t often execute. That can’t be put on any coach. Unfortunately, Haley does deserve much of the blame here and last week was a good illustration. With Le’Veon Bell carving up the Chiefs’ defense like it were a Thanksgiving turkey, Haley instead chose to “out-think” the defense by trying other plays rather than sticking to what was working.
This is a common theme with Haley. Rather than doing what works, he consistently tries to ‘surprise’ the defense or gets creative at the wrong times. There are some who will criticize Ben Roethlisberger for changing plays at the line of scrimmage as he appeared to do on the ill-fated pass that was ultimately tipped and intercepted.
As the coach, it’s Haley’s responsibility to make sure Roethlisberger is making those calls correctly or call plays where he doesn’t have the option. This doesn’t absolve Big Ben from any responsibility but if you’re going to get better in the Red Zone then the OC and the QB better be on the right page.
When the Steelers last played in New England, they lost 28-21 on opening night. They were 2 of 3 in the red zone and need a similar result on Sunday. When the two teams met in Pittsburgh this past autumn, the Steelers were led by Landry Jones and finished 1 of 4 in the Red Zone. In both of those games by the way the Patriots were a combined 7 for 7 in their red zone opportunities.
I’m not going to act like I know the answers here but I do know what I can suggest. First and foremost don’t abandon what is working. Secondly, don’t try to usher in different personnel packages every play because those often result in little time to change plays at the line of scrimmage. That in turn means using timeouts when you really don’t want to.
I really don’t care how Haley and the Steelers fix their Red Zone issues just as long as they do. Kicking field goals may beat the Kansas City Chiefs but it won’t beat the Patriots.