If there’s one reason to be disappointed about the timing of the Pittsburgh Steelers bye week this season it could be related to how it might have interrupted the nice rhythm and flow the offense seemed to have developed in their last two games prior to having Week 7 off. Specifically, how the offense had played early on in games.
During his weekly locker room media session, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked what he believes the main challenge will be for the offense to overcome as the team exits their annual bye week and it didn’t take him very long to come up with an answer.
“Try to start fast,” Roethlisberger said. “The last couple of weeks we’ve been doing that. We’ve been playing well offensively, but we can’t take a half to get going.”
Getting going early is indeed something the Steelers offense managed to somewhat do in their two games prior to their Week 7 bye week. In their Week 5 home game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Steelers offense scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Those drives covered 78 and 97 yards, respectively, and Roethlisberger completed 5 of 9 pass attempts for 64 yards and a touchdown.
While the Steelers offense didn’t start as fast on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 as they did the Sunday prior against the Falcons, the unit did score two touchdowns on what was effectively just five total first half possessions. Those two scoring drives both came in the second quarter and each covered 75 yards in total.
Up until the Steelers Week 5 game against the Falcons the team’s offense had only scored one touchdown in the first quarter of their first four games and that was the long run after the catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by tight end Vance McDonald. Even after the two first quarter touchdowns scored against the Falcons in Week 5, the Steelers offense is averaging just 3.2 points in the first 15 minutes of games and only four other teams currently have a lower number than that.
So, how is the history of Roethlisberger and the Steelers offensive during first quarters of games immediately following byes? Well, not great, really. For starters, you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time a Steelers offense scored a first quarter touchdown in their first game back following a bye. Since that 2008 against the Bengals, the Steelers offense has scored just 6 first quarter points, two field goals, in 19 total possessions. Dating back to 2004, Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers offense has scored all of 51 total first quarter points in post bye week games for an average of 3.6 a game.
In case you’re curious, Roethlisberger, for his career, is 71 of 117 passing for 781 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during first quarters of games following the team’s regular season bye week. That equates to a a passer rating of 81.2 and an ANY/A stat of just 5.47. 2 of those 4 first quarter post bye week touchdown passes that Roethlisberger has thrown so far during his career came against the New England Patriots during his rookie 2004 season.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense will likely have a tough test on Sunday at Heinz Field when it comes to trying to get off to a fast start as the Cleveland Browns defense has allowed an average of just 2.3 points per game in the first quarter entering Week 8 and just one touchdown in 19 total offensive possessions.
“You know, we’ve got to get going early,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday about his offense and Sunday’s game against the Browns.