Red-Zone Failures Early Haunt Steelers Late, Sending Offense Into Catch-Up Mode

For all of the many things that went wrong in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second loss of the season earlier today, the game could have gone much, much differently if they managed to find a way to seal the deal in the red zone against the Jaguars, entering Jacksonville’s 20-yard line on three occasions and failing to come out of any of those excursions with more than three points to show for it.

Each time the Steelers were forced to settle for a field goal, leaving them with just nine points for the game, the fewest they have scored in over a year when they were limited to just three points in Philadelphia.

And it started early—as in their first possession of the game. The drive got off to a very promising start with Ben Roethlisberger finding Antonio Brown—who got away with a bit of a push-off—for a 49-yard reception that put the ball on the 23-yard line.

Roethlisberger fired incomplete looking for Vance McDonald on the following play, but Le’Veon Bell ran for 10 yards to set up the offense with a first down at the 13, and an early possession in the red zone. He then carried for four yards on first down, but was dragged down for a loss of two on the next play. Roethlisberger seemingly threw the ball away on third down after not finding anybody immediately open.

The Steelers did not even get particularly close to another scoring opportunity until late in the first half, getting the ball back at their own 39 thanks to an interception from Ryan Shazier after the offense had seemed to go dormant after the first few plays of the game.

With just 41 seconds to play and one timeout, Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster and then Brown for gains of 21 and 23 yards down to the 17-yard line, but that was all they could muster. He checked down to Bell on first down, but he had to run diagonally to get out of bounds with no timeouts left and managed just a yard. His pass for Brown in the left corner of the end zone was uncatchable, with the receiver cut off. So another field goal it was.

The late activity, boosted by the turnover, did at least get the offense moving again, however, and they carried that into the second half, putting together a nice drive to start the third quarter.

During the 14-play drive, the Steelers only faced on third-and-short prior to it ultimately stalling on third and goal from the two. Roethlisberger attempted three passes from the five-yard line, completing one for three yards, as they settled for yet another field goal.

If the Steelers were able to convert on those red-zone opportunities, it would at that point have been a 21-7 game, rather than 9-7, and things would have looked rather different. Certainly the pass-heavy play-calling would have been different. And perhaps Roethlisberger wouldn’t have thrown a pair of pick-sixes.

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