Heading into last week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers offense had been one of the worst teams in the entire league in terms of winning the possession downs, which means converting on third and fourth down. That changed dramatically in Week Five. Will that trend continue against the Cincinnati Bengals?
Over the course of the first four weeks of the season, the Steelers converted just 15 of 49 first downs, a terrible 30.61 conversion percentage, and they were worse than one in four over the previous three games, down from a more successful season opener.
That was after being one of the very best teams on third down a year ago, converting 44 percent of the time, which ranked third in the league. Only the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles were more successful, and that was by less than one percent point.
The Steelers offense looked more like last year’s team on third down last week against the Falcons, when they converted on nine of their 12 third-down opportunities, and that included no fewer than three of their touchdowns.
In the first quarter, on the opening drive, the Steelers gave the ball to James Conner three consecutive times at the goal line. After very nearly getting in on second down—it was initially ruled a score—he dove over the pile for the score on third and one.
The team also close the first quarter with yet another score on third down, this time on third and eight, coming from the Falcons’ 18-yard line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to find wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the year.
Roethlisberger would later find his favorite target, Antonio Brown, in the third quarter on third and five from the Falcons’ nine-yard line for yet another score. As a matter of fact, Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdowns on third down this year, and ran for another score on fourth down so far this season.
Will the Steelers be able to continue their success on third down into this week against the Bengals?
Well, Cincinnati’s prior performances so far this year suggest that it’s actually likely. The Bengals have been one of the worse defenses in the league in the all too critical possession down, allowing opponents to convert on over 52 percent of such plays. That is the second-worst in the league, only one of two teams currently allowing a conversion rate of worse than 50 percent. Though in their defense, they have improved over the past three games.v