“Quite frankly, screw third down”, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters yesterday during his media availability portion yesterday, via a transcript of the pool interview provided by the team’s media department.
He could have been talking about the offense’s abysmal performance on Sunday against the New England Patriots, during which they only converted on third down successfully three times out of 12 opportunities (although that doesn’t include two third downs converted via penalty).
He wasn’t, though. He wasn’t happy at all with the way his unit performed when they got to third down, but where he was really unhappy was the fact that they put themselves in so many situations in which they had to convert on third down.
“What I was most disappointed is our first and second down because we had opportunities for more yards, run after catch, more run after contact”, Fichtner said. “We lost 3rd down and 1 on first and second down, and that’s where we’ve got to be better. That should never have come up as many times. We have to be better with the ball being playmakers. We need to be clicking more first downs on first and second down”.
One play that immediately sticks out in my memory was the beginning of their third drive, the Steelers operating for two plays out of a five-receiver set. Ben Roethlisberger targeted Ryan Switzer, tucked underneath Diontae Johnson in a stacked set on the right side, for eight yards on first down. They went back to the same play on second down, but Switzer couldn’t break the tackle and was stopped after just a yard, setting up that first failure on third and short, James Conner stopped for no gain.
Out of 22 non-penalty plays run by the Steelers on second down against the Patriots on Sunday, only eight of them produced a first down. But they only faced second and five or better seven times, successfully converting on five of them.
The Steelers ran 24 non-penalty snaps on first down, additionally. Throughout the entire game, they did not record a single first down on these 24 plays, though they did get one first down on a defensive holding penalty.
In fact, their average gain on first down on those 24 plays was, astoundingly, just under two yards per play. That feels almost comically bad. Their longest gain on any first-down play was nine yards, which they did twice. They had just seven successfully plays on first down on offense on non-penalty snaps for a truly awful 29.2 percent rate.
So while it’s quite valid to lament the team’s ugly showing on third and short during the game, also keep in mind that they have to do a better job of staying ahead of the chains, because they certainly didn’t do that in the opener.