Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are still about as hot as any team in the league when it comes to putting the ball in the end zone once they cross the opposing team’s 20-yard line. They were able to do so in three of four opportunities yesterday against the Jets, and posed a good chance of doing so on that one failed opportunity as well.
And what’s more, they are continuing to score from distance as well, with the Steelers adding their longest play of the season with a 72-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Sammie Coates on the end of their first drive, which was the first touchdown of the second-year wide receiver’s career.
The Steelers got their first red-zone touchdown at the end of the first half, a response drive to the Jets seizing the lead. It didn’t come easy, as Coates twice had passes that he could have scored on slip away from him, including a first-down play from the one-yard line, but Roethlisberger connected with Jesse James on second down. Coates did get the Steelers into the red zone with a 19-yard catch and run from the 22.
Pittsburgh’s next foray into the red zone came on a drive at the end of the third quarter that bled into the fourth. It was Coates again who got open on a free play for 19 yards from the 33 on third down. A quick six-yard gain led to Roethlisberger finding Antonio Brown getting open after about five seconds for the five-yard touchdown reception.
The one blemish in the red zone came on the following drive with the offense threatening to put the nail in the Jets’ coffin. A bad punt with a Steelers bounce gave them the ball on their own 38, and they were into the 20 in four plays.
After a four-yard carry on first down from the 18, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, but he held on the ball too long, and Leonard Williams was able to get free, nailing the quarterback from behind, which popped the ball loose and into the waiting arms of a defender for a rare lost fumble.
But the defense forced a punt in four plays, and the offense responded by simply driving down the field again and scoring, with Roethlisberger coming back to and finding Coates for his second touchdown of the game, this time from five yards out.
Over the course of the first five games of the season, Pittsburgh has been very efficient in the red zone, getting the ball across the goal line on eight of 10 opportunities. Adding in today’s three-for-four, they have now scored 11 times in 14 trips inside the red zone.
That is a touchdown percentage of 78.6, which, if my numbers are right, still stands as the fourth-best mark in the league currently, although we are still fairly early in the season and dealing with relatively small sample sizes. But when it comes to scoring in the red zone this year, it has not been an issue.