2020 South Side Questions: Will Offensive 3rd-Down Showing Be An Aberration This Season?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.

Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Was the Steelers’ third-down showing on offense against the Broncos an aberration?

The Steelers’ performance on third down against the Broncos offensively was absurdly bad. They converted on just two of 12 opportunities, a first-down percentage of just 17 percent. Which is awful. That does, however, including a third-down kneeldown at the end of the game, so you can strike that from the books and make it 2-for-11. And they also converted on fourth down once, meaning they still successfully continued that drive, so from that perspective, you can get it up to 3-for-11. That’s still poor at 27.3 percent, though.

And of course that is an aberration in its most general sense. But what I mean by asking if that performance is an aberration is this: are the Steelers going to be one of the better teams in the league in converting on third down, as they were in 2018, and in the first game of this season, or are they going to be pedestrian or worse at it?

Their average yards-to-go on third down against the Broncos was nine. That’s pretty bad. Really bad, actually. Even worse, they only faced a 3rd-and-5 or better on three of their 12 third downs (they only converted one of those, however).

Bottom line, they put themselves in abnormally long third-down circumstances, facing 10 yard to go or more six times, though they did convert one of them. This shouldn’t be the norm, and if they can do a better job of staying ahead of the chains, which they certainly should be capable of doing, this should definitely be an anomaly, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.

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