One of the facets of the offense that we discussed most from last year was the fact that, without Ben Roethlisberger on the field, the Pittsburgh Steelers had gotten off to incredibly slow starts consistently. Unfortunately, not much has changed in 2020 with Roethlisberger back under center, and Monday’s game was yet another example of that.
In fact, they raised their early ineptitude to a new level against the Washington Football Team, as for the first time all season, they opened up the game with two consecutive drives by going three and out. After opening the game with an errant deep shot to James Washington, Roethlisberger settled for two short passes to Ray-Ray McCloud and Eric Ebron on the opening drive before punting on 4th and 1.
After Washington got one first down, they, too, had to punt early, but it wouldn’t be long before they had possession against. On the Steelers’ second drive, they were stuffed on the ground for no gain on first down, then had a screen to JuJu Smith-Schuster blown up for no gain. After a false start, Roethlisberger bought time before looking for Smith-Schuster on 3rd and 15 near the line to gain, but the ball was dropped.
It finally took the eighth offensive play of the game for the Steelers to record a first down, and only after Anthony McFarland was stuffed on first down. On 2nd and 10, Roethlisberger was able to find Washington open in zone coverage for 30 yards.
But that’s as far as they would get. McFarland would have a nice first-down run to follow on the next play, but he was stopped on second down, and then Diontae Johnson was out of bounds as he fielded a third-down pass from Roethlisberger, the Steelers sending Jordan Berry onto the field for the third time in the first quarter.
The Steelers would ultimately have the ball on seven meaningful possessions in the first half. They punted four times and turned the ball over on downs another time. They did get into the end zone on their other two opportunities, but the second half would be even worse.
It’s bad enough to get off to a slow start, but to pair it with a sluggish finish is a recipe for disaster, and that’s what they got. In all, they had 13 meaningful possessions, punted six times, turned the ball over on downs, and threw an interception, with another being a failed comeback attempt at the end of the game with 17 seconds to play.
Even though they did lead 14-3 by halftime, the game never really felt like the Steelers were much in control. Part of that is because it took them nearly 20 minutes to get on the board in the first place. Better starts won’t fix all their problems, but it would help.