The Pittsburgh Steelers put up all of seven points in the first half of today’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, and not a lot of offense, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 111 yards before exiting with a knee injury (from which he would return). It was the second week in a row in which the offense had a rough first half, and had to change their approach in the second.
That approach? Spread ‘em out, make the defense declare and cover, slow down the rush, and hit the open man. They would score on three of five second-half possessions with this approach, and they passed up an opportunity to attempt a very makeable field goal on the final possession for a shot of closing out the game with a 4th-and-1 conversion.
This has been the theme of the past two games now. The Steelers, as Mike Tomlin put it after the game, got smacked in the mouth in the first half, adjusted in the second by simply leaning on the individual talents of their playmakers, trusting that one of the five, including tight end Eric Ebron, would get open and make a play. So why aren’t they doing this in the first half?
That’s the question everyone is asking, and it was asked of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished with a game-high six receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. “I think that’s something that we can do early in the game”, he told reporters, “and see what they use and what they come out of”.
“That’s something that we could use to our advantage, instead of pulling it out in the second half”, he continued, and then Ben does what Ben do. “Ben draws plays in the dirt. It’s something that he does, it’s something that they can’t stop, because Ben knows what he wants, and at the end of the day, we get the job done”.
Considering the fact that it’s now been back-to-back weeks in which the Steelers have had to lean heavily on this no-huddle, five-wide offensive look in the second half in order to come back from double-digit deficits, it is now reasonable to wonder if we will see Randy Fichtner and company trickle this in more at the start of games.
The Steelers continue to struggle at the start of games almost all season, although they started out today with a promising drive on the opening possession that ultimately petered out with a deep ball that Chase Claypool couldn’t hunt down.
One thing is clear, and that is that the Steelers are making it very difficult on themselves to win games by digging themselves holes in the first half and trusting on their franchise quarterback to bail them out in the second. Of course, it can’t be put that simply, as numerous factors are in play, but at least for Smith-Schuster, there is a responsiveness to the idea of expanding the offensive look that has been effective in second halves for the past two games.