The Pittsburgh Steelers broke into the red zone four times on Sunday against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. They only came away with one touchdown, and two scores in total, although that includes a clock-killing drive at the end of the game.
The other trip into the red zone, however, resulted in a strip sack recovered by the defense early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers leading just 10-9.
The Steelers’ red zone woes are already a hot topic throughout the local and national media already, but who knows how it might have played out if not for Brice McCain’s interception return for a touchdown just two plays after the turnover.
Pittsburgh ranks toward the very bottom of the league in terms of red zone efficiency, coming away with a touchdown on just under 44 percent of their trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
Naturally, that figure declined after Sunday’s one-for-four afternoon, but the key takeaway from the team’s most recent red zone struggles was the play-calling.
Entering the team’s final possession, the last three snaps of which were quarterback kneel downs in the red zone, the Steelers ran a total of 11 plays inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line, and every one of them was a pass.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke to the media yesterday, acknowledging when asked that those pass plays were his call. This was just a day after head coach Mike Tomlin said during his press conference that he would have liked to have seen more runs called closer to the goal line.
Of course, the Steelers have two backs on the roster averaging more than five yards per carry, so it’s no surprise that so many find the play selection curious.
But not Roethlisberger. “We’re going to take what the defense gives us”, he said. “Last week it was throwing the ball”.
Roethlisberger did average 7.6 yards per pass attempt on Sunday against Jacksonville’s defense. But Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount also combined to average 4.8 yards per carry on 23 carries for 111 yards.
Roethlisberger said that while some of the decision to keep the ball in the air was influenced by the use of the no huddle and the more selective personnel packages involved in running it, throwing the ball was ultimately “me calling plays (and) feeling like we had the advantage in the pass game down there. So I called passes and I don’t regret any of it”.
Roethlisberger’s comments suggest that his play selection while in command in the red zone do take into account defensive personnel. But Tomlin himself did publicly comment on said play selection as well. I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible the reins will be pulled just a bit if the quarterback seems to get a bit pass-happy near the goal line again.