The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The offense will retain its efficiency rating in the red zone from 2018.
Explanation: In spite of all the gloom and doom that has retroactively defined the Steelers’ 2018 season, with no playoff appearance, the offense was among the highest-scoring, most efficient, and best in the red zone, finishing about three quarters of their red-zone possessions by putting the ball in the end zone.
There is one reason more than any other that I’m buying, and that is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger led the league with four red-zone interceptions, which is a fluky thing that there is no reason to expect to happen more than once. I believe all four of those interceptions were targeting Antonio Brown as well.
So if you take away four turnovers in the red zone, that leaves some wiggle room for there to be a slight drop-off in efficiency for the rest of the drives. This is still an offense, even with out Brown, that is capable of getting the ball across the goal line about three out of four chances.
Also, while Brown had 15 touchdowns, only five were in the red zone. JuJu Smith-Schuster also had five touchdowns in the red zone.
It’s rare for the Steelers to have a running back score 10 or more touchdowns on the ground. It’s rarer still for one to have 10 or more in the red zone. James Conner scored 12 rushing touchdowns, of which 10 were from within four yards and nine from within two. How likely is it that he has the same number of opportunities to duplicate those results?
And that’s simply a difficult ratio to maintain for even the best offenses in the NFL. The reality is that the Steelers haven’t really been all that close to posting a similar efficiency for a while, so to expect that one season is the new norm rather than the aberration is a mistake.
Randy Fichtner was an unknown commodity last season as a rookie play-caller at the NFL level. That was more of an asset than a hindrance because teams didn’t know how to play him. They will in 2019.