Today is Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing. They are not playing tomorrow, either, nor did they already play on Thursday. The 6-4 franchise is entering its long awaited and much needed bye week after 10 straight games.
With not much else going on, it would figure to be a good time to reflect on what we have seen over the past three months. Specifically, I would like to explore a few topics this week that the team might want to use this time to reconsider.
The Steelers are very nearly out of their bye week, but I have one less proposal for the coaching staff to consider as they resume play tomorrow evening, and it pertains to the way they conduct their red zone offense.
Even though the team has lost Le’Veon Bell for the rest of the season, it seems to me that the running back position is being underutilized in that part of the field. Notwithstanding the bad aftertaste of a dropped touchdown pass in the red zone from DeAngelo Williams earlier in the year, I think he is an asset that is not being exploited enough in this facet of the game.
At the moment, the Steelers rank as a middling team in terms of converting trips inside the red zone into touchdowns, placing 15th thanks to their 55.88 percent conversion rate, which has dipped in recent weeks, converting on only 40 percent of opportunities in the last three games, largely because of a disastrous one-for six showing against the Browns.
Last year, the offense found success when Bell was integrated into the red zone passing offense. He was third on the team with 13 red zone targets, and also third with 10 receptions, totaling 37 yards and three touchdown receptions. Even LeGarrette Blount caught two of three targets for 10 yards.
This year, Bell was limited to just three receptions on four targets in his limited time for 15 yards. Meanwhile, Williams has only been targeted twice, and he did not catch either pass, with one of course being the drop on what should have been a touchdown.
Of the team’s 47 pass attempts in the red zone, a full 34 have gone to their top two wide receivers and tight end, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the offensive potential in the final fifth of the playing field.
While Williams has been exceptionally successful on the ground in the red zone—92 yards on 27 carries with five touchdowns—the offensive play-calling can be more cryptic if the running backs were targeted more when on the field inside the red zone. The position has been the recipient of just six targets in 10 games.
Williams has never necessarily been known as a receiving back out of the backfield, but he has shown to be capable of it, both in the past and this year with the Steelers. He has 13 receptions for 135 yards this year, and for his career, he has 191 receptions for 1758 yards, as well as seven touchdowns. That sounds to me like something that should be better utilized.