The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the Tennessee Titans game with a somewhat pedestrian, but nonetheless respectable third-down offense. Through the first five games, they had converted 34 of their 74 third-down conversion attempts at a 45.9-percent rate, which ranked 10th in the NFL. They also converted six of seven conversion attempts on fourth down, so it’s more like 40 out of 74, which would be a rate of 54 percent.
The third-down offense seems to go hot and cold. Unsurprisingly, against one of the worst third-down defenses in the NFL in Tennessee, it was a hot day, especially early, as they converted in third down on their first seven tries, including four times on the opening series. Their first third-down failure came inside of field goal range and allowed them to regain a two-possession lead at 17-7.
The Steelers faced a 3rd and 3 right off the bat after Ben Roethlisberger’s first pass was tipped, and found Diontae Johnson for the first time in the game for a 14-yard connection up the left sideline. Several plays later, it was Johnson again converting on 3rd and 14.
After a James Conner fumble that he recovered himself set up 3rd and 1 from the 17, he punched ahead himself for six yards, and then on third and one from the two, it was his backup, Benny Snell, converting to set up first and goal from the one—before a facemask penalty made it from the 16. Which they were able to overcome for the touchdown.
The second drive wasn’t much easier, as a minus-10-yard pass to Conner on an ill-advised decision ultimately set up 3rd and 14, but Roethlisberger whisked the ball down the middle of the field where he found Eric Ebron for a clean 22-yard conversion. A beautiful downfield scoop catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster later on converted on 3rd and 12 for 22 yards, those two plays sandwiched in between another 3rd-and-1 Conner conversion on the ground.
In all, the Steelers finished 8-of-9 on third down in the first half, which helped them build a comfortable 24-7 lead, a rare commodity against a winning team—and yet something that they managed to do last week against the 4-1 Cleveland Browns as well.
It only it had remained that way, as the second half proved to be a grind. They converted just once on four third-down opportunities in the third quarter, during which they were outscored 10-3 by the Titans, helped by a Roethlisberger interception.
When all was said and done, they converted 13 of 18 times on third down, or 72.2 percent of the time, which is obviously fantastic, and much better than the 5-for-14 that they mustered in their 31-point win against the Cleveland Browns the week before.
On the season, they have now crossed the 50-percent threshold, converting on 51.1 percent of their third-down attempts. That’s up to top five in the league territory now. Of course, now it’s a matter of keeping it going.