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Red Zone Performance Still A Sore Spot For Steelers

Quick note I wanted to make about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season before we tackle the playoffs. But most measures, it was a successful one. 13-3, 406 points, all-stars across the board. Hard to complain, right? One gripe has to be with how the Steelers’ red zone offense and defense performed.

Cover your eyes. It ain’t pretty.

From the hard-working people over at Teamrankings.com, the Steelers finished in the bottom third in both red zone offense and defense. On offense, they found the end zone just 50.8% of the time, 22nd in the NFL. Defensively, opposing teams hit paydirt on more than 61% of their chances, giving the Steelers’ defense a 28th place finish.

Offensively, only two teams, Atlanta and Kansas City, had worse percentages and made the playoffs. Defensively, the Steelers are last of any playoff team.

Put it this way. The Houston Texans had a more successful red zone offense and the Arizona Cardinals a better red zone defense. U-G-L-Y.

Don’t blame Sunday’s Browns game either. The team went 1/2, right around the season average. That did little to skew the numbers.

Sure, the Steelers had more chances. So did other high-powered offenses like the LA Rams and New England Patriots. The Rams finished 14th and the Patriots all the way up in 5th place. The best red zone offense went to the Philadelphia Eagles, another team who marched down the field for trip after trip in the red zone.

There’s no excuse-making. It’s playoffs so the margin of error is razor thin. One bad day at finishing drives is enough to get you booted from the chase, no matter who that is against. The teams who are left are all talented enough to challenge the Steelers, even if Pittsburgh is still rightfully the favorite against anyone not named New England.

But maybe I’m more disappointed in the defense, a focal point of Tomlin and area of strength for several years. In 2015 and 2016, they finished in the top ten and even in 2014, managed to crack the top 20. Despite the appearance of a defense on the rise, one that set the record for sacks in a season, this is still a big problem area.

An area we’ve harped on all season long. Hoping, thinking, it would get better. One good performance, like the defense’s job against the Detroit Lions, boosted the numbers, but they quickly sank over the next month. Now that the season is over and there’s a large enough sample size to take the data seriously, the results aren’t impressive.

If the Steelers get bounced from the playoffs, odds are, you’ll point to them struggling in one – or both – of these areas. If I’m Mike Tomlin, it’s one of the biggest numbers that needs to be changed for 2018.

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