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The Pessimist’s Take: Scoring On The Ground

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will the Steelers be able to build off the success of their running game in terms of scoring production?

When it comes to determination just what sort of narrative can be culled from the Steelers’ scoring ability on the ground, reality proves to be quite a barrier in a solid formation, because the results are of such a variety that there is no clear narrative.

The Steelers, for example, did not score on the ground much without Ben Roethlisberger, but they have also scored on the ground multiple times in losing efforts, such as in the late-season loss to the Ravens. But then DeAngelo Williams scored three times against the 49ers in a Week Two blowout, only to be counterbalanced by a five-touchdown passing dominance from Roethlisberger against the Colts.

The most important takeaway from this is that we can’t say there will be a decline in the scoring production of the ground game simply because Roethlisberger should play more than 12 games when the reality is that the team simply didn’t score much without him. Nor is there much correlation between him playing hurt and a greater reliance on scoring on the ground.

What we do know, however, is that the Steelers’ 15 rushing touchdowns last season is a bit of an outlier in their recent history last year, and Roethlisberger’s mere 21 passing touchdowns is an outlier in his recent history, even when adjusting for the time that he missed. All things considered, his touchdowns per pass attempt was rather low.

I suspect that we will see notable improvement in this area. If you look back at his career, Roethlisberger’s 4.5 percent touchdown percentage actually ranks as the fifth-lowest mark of his career, and the lowest since 2011. Interestingly, his three best years in this department are in 2004, 2005, and 2007, early in his career when the offense relied upon him less to drive down the field.

Right behind those marks, however, are 2012, 2014, 2009, and then 2013, with 2014’s 5.3 percent ratio being especially impressive given his 608 pass attempts. Roethlisberger has the ability, weaponry, and health to put up another top-five mark of his career in terms of touchdown percentage, and there should be no reason he can’t top his career-high 32 touchdown passes, at the expense, perhaps, of some rushing touchdowns, with some of those passes going to Le’Veon Bell.

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