While there are a lot of things wrong right now with the Pittsburgh Steelers on both sides of the ball, one factor that is doing their defense no favors is the fact that the offense has not been able to stay on the field and sustain drives. Combined with the defense’s struggles, allowing opposing offenses to stay on the field, that has resulted in some imbalanced time of possession figures through the first three games, as we talked about.
Against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, for example, the Steelers only controlled the ball for fewer than 24 minutes, which is pretty remarkable considering the fact that they recorded five takeaways, three more than they gave up. Generally, winning the turnover battle helps you win the time of possession battle as well.
Of their 13 possessions against the 49ers, only three of them lasted for at least two minutes, and that included the opening drive, a three-play, two-minute affair that ended in a field goal. Their third possession, coming off of an interception, lasted 2:40 over five plays before settling for a second field goal. They also possessed the ball for nearly a six-minute drive at the end of the first half, accounting for about 25 percent of their total time of possession throughout the game. And yet they only gained 34 yards on the drive, punting at the end of it.
“When you leave your defense on the field for that long, they will get tired out”, veteran offensive lineman Ramon Foster said on his radio show on The Fan yesterday. “And I’m not saying they’re getting tired, but it just shows that if you’re on the field more than another team’s offense and you’re beating down a defense, you can kind of expect certain things. And that falls on the offense. They did everything they were supposed to do yesterday, and we as an offense came up short”.
Every single one of their seven possessions in the second half lasted fewer than two minutes, with two of them being under one minute, and another two fewer than 90 seconds. Granted, two of those possession did end in touchdowns thanks to long plays—a 76-yarder to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a 39-yard connection with Diontae Johnson—but even that does the defense no favors in terms of giving them rest, and less time for which they have to defend the field.
It’s not as though the reason for the struggles is oblique. They have been terrible on third down. They have a total of nine third-down conversions on the season out of 35 opportunities, just barely converting on one fourth of their opportunities.
The key to building sustained drives lies in the ability to win the possession downs. Pittsburgh hasn’t been doing that. They have to going forward, for the sake of both the offense and the defense.