The secret is there’s no secret. That’s one of Mike Tomlin’s famous “Tomlinisms.” And I guess you could apply that to the drastic change to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ red zone offense. No secret. No magic wand. Just a matter of executing at a higher level.
“I don’t necessarily know other than execution,” Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference. “I know we spend a lot of time planning in that area but we’ve generally always spent a lot of time planning in that area. The guys are executing extremely well.”
Tomlin credited Ben Roethlisberger for the tremendous job he’s done and ability to finish off drives with touchdowns, not field goals.
“It starts with #7. He’s been outstanding.”
Roethlisberger has gone 26/46 for 177 yards, 11 TDs, and two picks in the red zone this season. Those aren’t numbers that will sweep you off your feet compared to the rest of the league, Patrick Mahomes has 22 red zone touchdown passes already, for example, but they’re still strong figures.
Maybe the most impressive stat circles back to pass protection. Roethlisberger hasn’t been sacked once in the red zone this season, one of only three quarterback with more than 40 passes, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco are the others, who can say the same.
Eliminating sacks prevents those classic “drive killers” where offenses find themselves in 3rd and forever without much space over the top to work with. That’s how you get a checkdown or screen on 3rd and goal. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers are ranked relatively high in red zone offense too; the Ravens are top ten, Green Bay in the top half.
Meanwhile, the quarterback most often sacked in the red zone is Deshaun Watson, dropped nine times, and the Houston Texans have the 27th worst red zone attack. Matthew Stafford has been taken down six times and Detroit isn’t doing much better, slotted 25th. Food for thought because Tomlin is right, figuring out a precise reason for the difference is difficult.
Tomlin was also asked if the Steelers have placed a higher focus on the run game this year, particularly inside the five.
“I hadn’t studied that analytically. So I don’t know the answer to that. I just know that we’re scoring. And that’s important.”
Looking at the numbers, there might be at least a little something to that notion. The Steelers have run the ball at a much higher rate inside the five in 2018, 15 runs to only seven passes. Compare that to 2017 when they threw more than they ran, 19 to 17. But with sample sizes still so small, it’s difficult to say with any certainty.
On his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger gave his input on why things are better.
“I don’t know If there’s one thing, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Maybe we’re getting ourselves in better situations in the sense that we’re in more manageable situations. Maybe we’re not in third and long as much. I’d have to really go back and kind of look at all the situations but I think we know when we get down there we want to score points. To me, I think a lot of guys have made plays and linemen have to block longer because there’s not a lot of open grass for people.”
Either way, if the Steelers keep up this torrent pace, leading the NFL in red zone offense after last Thursday’s 4-4 performance, they’ll continue to be one of the league’s most potent groups.