The Pittsburgh Steelers have been good at many things this season on their way to currently the third-best record in the AFC. There are also a handful of things that they haven’t done so well, most especially being their inability to get off to fast starts on the offensive side of the ball—and scoring more generally.
The team entered Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers with the worst point differential in the first quarter in the NFL, scoring just 25 points but allowing 57 for a minus-32 differential. They turned that around, scoring three touchdowns while allowing one, dropping their differential to minus-18—now only 27th in the league, rather than last.
This was necessarily a pleasant sight for Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who opened up his pre-game press conference yesterday highlighting that turnaround and how it becomes increasingly important as you go through the course of an NFL season picking up the pace early as the games go along.
“I thought the significant element of offensive play was that we didn’t warm up to the action. That we came out firing and I just think that as you watch the landscape of football in 2018, there is not a lot of opportunity to warm up to it”, Tomlin said of his team’s play early in Thursday’s game.
“Playing on Thursday kind of gives you that vantage point”, he added. “You get to sit back and watch weekend football and in 2018, warming up to the action offensively is not helpful to the cause. People are scoring and scoring quickly, and they are gaining control of games because of it and you are limited in ways in which you can attack people when you warm up to it”.
While the defense was slow to get going on the opening drive, the offense was certainly ready. Ben Roethlisberger immediately hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 75-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game, their longest opening play from scrimmage in team history.
“You put yourself in game circumstances that allow you to free-will in the ways that allow you to maintain balance and be unpredicting and control games”, he said, when you start play at a high level. “I thought our ability to start fast was significant as well. We had a splash play on special teams, we are always looking to gain a possession or gain the field positioning advantage in that phase of game”.
That special teams play, of course, came later in the game, in the fourth quarter, and set up their final touchdown that gave them 52 points for the night, the most points they had scored as a team since 1984.
In the first game out of the bye week, the Steelers failed to score in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns, but allowed their opponent to drive down the field twice for field goals. They did get a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens, who countered with a field goal, so they came into Thursday’s game minus-two in the first quarter since the bye. Now it’s plus-12, which is the fourth-best mark in that span.