The Pittsburgh Steelers had six non-scoring drives yesterday against the San Francisco 49ers that lasted only three plays. Four of them were three-and-outs, one ending in a field goal, another a lost fumble. They had another four drives that lasted just four yards, including the final drive of the game, which ended on downs, another with an interception.
One of the foundational threads of their defeat proved to be the inability of the offense to convert on third down. They went, if memory serves, 0-5 in the first half, at least until the final drive, and finished 3-for-12 overall. And this was not an anomaly.
For the season, the Steelers have converted just nine times on third down. They have had 35 third-down plays. They are barely hovering just above a 25-percent conversion rate, which is awful, especially given that the offense was among the best in this department last season. Mason Rudolph obviously has to do a better job, but they also went 3-for-12 in the opener.
“It’s the same old story”, veteran guard David DeCastro said after the game, from the team’s website. “We’re not converting those third downs, and the rhythm, we’re not getting any. It’s not helping anyone out. It sucks. As an offense, you’re just off the field, three and out”.
On their first possession, they ended up getting behind the chains, even if it was a drive that began in field goal range. They ended up in third and 12, Rudolph opting for an inside screen to JuJu Smith-Schuster just to make it an easier field goal at that point.
Many were more manageable, however. The next possession was a three-and-out ending on third and five. Rudolph had to scramble on third and six to end drive number three. Third and five again. Later, on the final drive of the half, after converting their first two third downs of the game, Rudolph was sacked on third and four.
“That’s the issue, they’re not third and longs”, DeCastro opined. “We’re moving the ball okay, efficiently, but we’re just not converting those manageable third downs”. While it’s much more preferable to be in third and two as opposed to third and five, that is a maneagable figure, and a good offense should certainly be able to those at a clip better than 1-in-4.
The frustration is mounting among the players about their own struggles. That’s not to say that there is trouble brewing. It’s normal, healthy frustration. Failure should be frustrating, motivating. Individually, collectively, things are simply not good enough. Drives are not being sustained. And that has to change.
The Steelers had just one drive the entire game last three minutes or more, and only two lasted more than two minutes. One of those two was that opening drive in which they gained a total of five yards and kicked a field goal.
“We didn’t hold up our end of the stick, that’s for sure”, DeCastro said. They didn’t. But they can get it corrected.