Too Many Penalties, Fewer First Downs Doom Steelers In Loss

With one of the worst losses in recent memory, it’s hard to find many areas that the team excelled in during Sunday’s contest against the Eagles. And while, yes, it’s only one game in the large scheme of things, there is still plenty to pick apart from the team’s performance.

The pass rush just simply wasn’t there. The O-line didn’t protect Ben Roethlisberger enough. They couldn’t run the football. But what stood out most to me was the lack of production on 1st down, and the penalties accrued throughout the game.

Prior to my thoughts, however, I’d like to preface that it’s not time to be sounding the alarm and freaking out about the trajectory of the 2016 season. We know this team is good, and they will be bounce back. Needless to say, it was an underwhelming performance in Philly, and that’s why it’s being addressed.

When looking at the 3rd down efficiency of both teams on offense, the Eagles and Steelers seem to be in the same boat. The Eagles went 4-10, while the Steelers went 4-11. Nothing too crazy there. But looking closer at the plays and you find that the Eagles converted the important third downs they needed to, and converted some of the very long ones to boot. But that still doesn’t tell the whole story, because the Eagles had the ball for nearly ten minutes longer than the Steelers. 10 minutes longer, and the same number of third downs. That goes to show that Philadelphia not only converted the big third downs, but they did extremely well on first and second.

In fact, the Eagles had back to back touchdown drives in the second half without facing a single third down. Given that Philly has been relatively poor on third down this season, it’s reasonable to assume that if Pittsburgh was able to pressure them into third down situations, those drives would likely not have netted 14 points, perhaps just 6, or maybe none. Furthermore, the Eagles’ long drives resulted in them gaining ten more first downs than the Steelers.

That’s obviously not a good recipe for success.

When it comes to the offensive production from Pittsburgh, where do we begin? Well, they managed only 15 first downs in the entire game, they completed 26% of their third downs, and they managed just three points from outside of the red zone, in a game where they made two trips inside the 20.

Aside from the obvious mishaps, such as Markus Wheaton’s drop, some untimely injuries etc., you simply cannot go 0-2 in the red zone and expect to win. The Eagles made 5 trips there and converted three of those, so the opportunities were seized by Philly, though they were more plentiful as well. And to make things more difficult for themselves, the Steelers faced a third down on every single drive, except for one  that ended in a quick interception, and then the final fourth quarter drive with seconds remaining.

The big key going into week four against a tough Kansas City team, is to make some significant progress on the first two downs. This is likely going to be accomplished through the ground game, which was nonexistent against Philly. 25 total rushing yards is not going to cut it, especially with this talented offensive line.

Any coach will tell you when they face poor third down conversions, it’s usually because the first two downs were very poor. And with consistent third and long’s (the Steelers faced 8), you aren’t likely to convert many.

Penalties were also a huge issue. While the Eagles had more (10-99), Pittsburgh (7-77) committed fouls at seemingly all the wrong times. One that stuck out to me, in particular, was the penalty on Will Gay in the 2nd quarter. Philadelphia was up 13-3 and they were driving near mid-field when they faced a third and one. A false start penalty made it third and six, and it looked promising for the Steelers to get the ball back and mount a drive to tighten the lead to 3.

However, Carson Wentz threw to Nelson Agholar past the sticks; it was incomplete, but Gay was flagged for pass interference. The Eagles would go on to score a field goal and maintain the momentum. Of course, some of the calls in the game were questionable at best, especially the facemask call on Stephon Tuitt. But when opportunities present themselves, you have to take them, and that was where the Steelers faltered on Sunday.

Let’s hope they can get back on track next week at home when they take on the tough Chiefs defense. It won’t be a cake walk, that’s for sure, but it may be a good test to see how this team learned from their mishaps this past week.

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