Point blank, the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the absolute most garbage teams in the NFL in terms of starting games fast on offense in 2020, particularly on their opening drives. In fact, all too frequently lately, they have been starting games by going three and out, failing to achieve even a single first down, immediately losing the field position battle.
Over the course of their first 14 games, they have finished 11 opening drives with zero points. They have successfully kicked two field goals, missed a third, and scored a touchdown. They have punted nine times, and lost a fumble on another occasion.
Of those 14 opening drives, six have been three and outs, including each of the past four games, and the first two games. Interestingly, they did go eight straight weeks of picking up at least one first down, but they have picked up exactly one first down four times, two one other time. They have only picked up more than two first downs on their opening drive a total of three times all season—each of their three scoring drives.
Head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the Steelers’ slow starts of late—they haven’t scored any offensive points in the first quarter in eight games—and he brought up one of his favorite terms in describing the issues that have been holding them back in this area.
“If it was one thing, you could identify it and fix it, but really it’s been popcorn”, he said on The Mike Tomlin Show last night. “It’s been a myriad of things. Sometimes it’s a penalty that gets you off schedule. An incomplete ball for one reason or another. Drops, etc. Negative plays in the running game. It really has been an overall collective”.
“And the reality is, is we’re not good enough, particularly in that space”, he went on. “Sometimes we start slow, they start slow, there’s an exchange of punts and really that’s what was transpiring. Really that’s what was transpiring the last two weeks. That’s what was transpiring in Buffalo until they had to pick-six. You know, so in the midst of those slow starts, man, we’ve got to do a better job while we work at getting better at it. We’ve got to do a better job of maintaining possession of the football”.
Of course it’s the final score that matters in the end, not the score at the end of the first quarter, but getting off to a quick start never hurts. It’s hard enough to play in the NFL, but trying to come back from a 17-point deficit, like they had to do last week, is an improbable task even against the worse teams in the league.