There is no doubt a lot of hand-wringing about the dreaded style points following today’s 21-18 victory over the Cleveland Browns, but if you are in need of a sliver of positivity after an uneven outing by the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, then you should at least be able to take solace in the fact that they were able to capitalize on their opportunities in the red zone.
They only made it inside the 20-yard line twice during the game, but they made the most of each of them, coming away with a pair of touchdowns to show for it, and given that they only won the game by a three-point margin, the fact that they were able to maximize their chances near the goal line a critical role in the outcome.
The first score came late in the first half after a pretty uninspiring 26 minutes or so from the Steelers’ offense up to that point. But ignited by the efforts of Antonio Brown, who caught passes of 50, 11, and 19 yards on consecutive plays, they quickly found themselves staring at first and goal from the nine-yard line.
Ben Roethlisberger’s first pass looking for Jesse James fell incomplete, though in this case he was just throwing the ball up and out of the end zone, nearly hitting the crossbar. Le’Veon Bell was able to pick up five yards up the middle, but on third down, Roethlisberger went back to his tight end, making the tough catch in tight coverage for the score.
It was largely Brown who enabled the second opportunity in the red zone as well, as two drives later, he was able to draw a pass interference call that move the ball 41 yards down the field to the 18-yard line. After a 10-yard checkdown to Bell, the Steelers had another first-and-goal on their hands.
The running back carried for one yard on first down, and then five on second down to get down to the two-yard line. Roethlisberger called for a timeout leading up to the critical third-and-goal play for the two-yard line, which proved to be a wise decision.
He then faked a wide screen pass to Bell as James blocked in the middle of the field, releasing in order to open himself up for the designed screen pass for a score up the middle made easy by the cleverness of the design—something that Alex Kozora says was run in training camp with fair frequency.
Embedded within this story about red-zone success is another about the third-year tight end, James, and somewhat of a taste of redemption after struggling in training camp and the preseason—so much so that the team traded for another tight end—but that is a tale for another day.
For now, let’s just take the time to appreciate that the Steelers were able to play at their best at the most critical times on a day in which they were clearly not at their best overall. Exiting the first week of the season, they have a 100-percent touchdown percentage in the red zone.