Safety Valves In Passing Game Not Relieving Much Pressure This Year

In searching for the identity of some of the main weaknesses in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense right now, I believe that the lack of production from the typical ‘safety valve’ positions of tight end and running back is proving to be a significant hindrance to the passing game, and to Ben Roethlisberger.

Take a look for yourself. Right now, tight end Jesse James, for example, has 18 catches on the season for 151 yards. Prorated over the course of a season, that would give him about 57 receptions, with isn’t a bad number, all things considered. But it would net him just 483 receiving yards.

James is averaging just 8.4 yards per reception this year. That is even worse than the 8.7 yards that he averaged over 39 receptions last year. He is on pace to catch a considerably higher number of passes, but those passing plays are proving to be even less efficient.

Le’Veon Bell is, in fact, no better, and in fact, far worse. Right now, after his 10-reception, 46-yard game against the Jaguars, he is averaging a pittance at 5.3 yards per reception, the lowest of his career, and a low number generally, even for running backs. Especially those with a prolific role in the passing game.

Bell has caught 27 passes already this year, putting him on pace to set a new career high with about 86 receptions, but he is doing less with those receptions than he ever has before, gaining just 144 yards on them.

Now, Roethlisberger of course has his own role to play in this. If he doesn’t get his safety valves the ball with much room to work in, then they can only do so much with each target. And of course there have been those instances that affect their numbers.

But neither of them have created much for themselves, which is proving to be a major burden. Bell already has three receptions this season that have gone for lost yardage. Six of his receptions have gained three yards or fewer, only one of which was even in the vicinity of a successful play, a three-yard gain on second and five.

Only four of his receptions have gone for 10 or more yards, and all four of them were the product of good blocking, most of them on screen passes. He is not forcing many tacklers to miss or generally creating yardage in this area of the game as he has in the past.

As for James, a surprisingly high number of his receptions have gone for ‘successful’ plays for the offense, which includes touchdowns of two and four yards. But he is doing little after the catch unless it’s there for him by design.

When they have been put in the role of being the safety valve for Roethlisberger, the necessary outlet under pressure, they have been underwhelming. The offense needs the get more production in this area to help the quarterback out.

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