The Pittsburgh Steelers have had lots of problems on the offensive side of the ball this year. Some for obvious reasons, others perhaps less so. One of the most consistent and frustrating issues has been the team’s inability to get off to a good start. Prior to Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, they had scored just once on their opening possession.
That came all the way back in Week Three, and was the product of a defensive takeaway. “Other than that, I don’t know that we’ve scored a point all year”, head coach Mike Tomlin lamented on his weekly appearance on The Mike Tomlin Show.
Though the drive ultimately stalled after Devlin Hodges took a sack, the Steelers were able to get a field goal on their opening possession out in Arizona, bringing their total points scored on opening possessions in 2019 up to a whopping six.
“To be able to kick a field goal on that opening possession really kind of set a tone, I think, just in the minds of our guys in terms of [the fact that] it didn’t have to be an uphill battle all day”, Tomlin said. “So it’s good, we’re starting to check some boxes. We’re starting to do some things that we hadn’t done and improved in some areas that had been consistent areas of weakness for us”.
Shortly thereafter, the Steelers were able to go up 10-0 thanks to a punt return touchdown by Diontae Johnson. It was just the second or third time all season in which the team had a 10-0 lead or better all season, so Tomlin wasn’t lying about the reality of them having to consistently climb their way back into games.
Can they score some points in the first quarter tonight against the Buffalo Bills? It sure would take some stress out of the proceedings. With JuJu Smith-Schuster remaining out for a fourth straight game, it will be up to Hodges and his young receivers, James Washington, Johnson, Deon Cain, and Tevin Jones, plus whatever they can muster out of the running game.
The early plays are notable because they are run off of a script that the offense puts together in advance of the game. They are designed to be complementary and effective, and also to expose a defense’s tendencies for use later in the game, setting up future calls.
The Steelers have been spectacularly bad playing off-script, the polar opposite of the Baltimore Ravens, who have scored on nearly every opening possession this season and have the highest-scoring offense in the league. Their season could still come down to having to go in to Baltimore and winning a game, so that’s something to keep in mind.