The Pittsburgh Steelers have been held to under 20 points in four consecutive games now, and the offense specifically has been held to 17 point or fewer during that span. It’s the first time that they has happened with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the field since his rookie season in 2004—in what is at this point a different era of the game.
Put simply, 17 points, 19 points isn’t going to cut it, and it’s no surprise that they lost their past three games after winning their first 11, scoring at least 24 points in each of them. It seems as though defenses in recent weeks are doing a better job of defending the Steelers’ short passing game, which is what drives their entire offense.
After all, it has had to. They don’t have a consistent deep passing game at all, and connect on more defensive pass interference penalties than actual catches. It’s a miracle any week that they actually have a semblance of a running game. Some weeks, it’s hard enough just having guys hold on to the ball.
Nevertheless, head coach Mike Tomlin was not buying the argument that the Steelers’ sudden downturn in offensive performance has anything to do with defenses adjusting to the tape and being more aggressive in defending their underneath routes.
“I think the short passing game is just prevalent throughout the NFL. I know that we see it defensively every week and we employ schemes to challenge it”, he said on the Mike Tomlin Show. While that no doubt is true, it is also true that the short passing game has been less effective, with defenses making more plays, in recent weeks.
“I don’t think that that’s an interesting argument at all, to be quite honest with you”, Tomlin went on. “It’s something that’s brought up because we’re not moving the ball fluidly and scoring and winning. But in terms of rhythm passing, that’s just an element of today’s game that’s prevalent throughout every offense”.
Frankly, this sounds like something that he should find interesting, and should motivate him to get the intermediate and deep passing game working, to use more play action, to get the run game going—anything to show defenses something other than short passes that can be successful.
The Steelers rank first in pass attempts but 19th in passing yards. Their 5.8 net adjusted yards per pass attempt ranks 24th. Meanwhile, they are 31st in rushing yards and yards per attempt with the second-fewest total first downs, the 11th-lowest scoring percentage, and the third-lowest yards and plays per drive.
Were it not for the defense and special teams often setting them up with good field position, giving them the third-best average starting field position in the NFL, which helps translate to ranking 19th in points per drive, we would be talking about this offense as being near the very bottom in the NFL. Isn’t that interesting?