The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has played eight quarters of football so far. You could argue that maybe one or two of them were something akin to what they should look like. Yesterday’s home opener against the Las Vegas Raiders was particularly frustrating, for a number of reasons, not the least of which being their failure to set up and execute possession downs.
The Steelers converted just five of 12 third-down attempts during the game (admittedly, the Raider did slightly worse at five of 13). They also turned the ball over on downs once. Their failures to convert on possession downs perhaps led head coach Mike Tomlin to punt on 4th and 1 in a critical situation midway through the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t think we had enough detail or enough play-making on possession downs”, he told reporters after the game. “A lot of that had to do with our inability to make plays in spots when attrition set in, but that’s the nature of this thing. So put that on me”.
In that comment, he was talking about both the offense and defense, but the offensive failures were particularly frustrating, and it’s partly because they regularly put themselves in bad situations. On the first drive, for example, after an early 3rd-and-2 conversion, they were stuck with 3rd-and-9. Ben Roethlisberger had to scramble, but at least got off a good pass to Eric Ebron, who failed to make what would have been a tough catch. And so they punted.
Their next drive lasted five plays, and ended on a 3rd-and-10 interception that was probably off an ill-advised ball down the field from Roethlisberger, but aided by wide receiver Diontae Johnson not continuing his route through the whistle.
One of the few plays that they did convert on third down was on 3rd-and-8 at the end of the first quarter, with Roethlisberger finding Smith-Schuster short for a catch and run of 17 yards. The drive would end on a deep incompletion on 4th-and-4 to wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Another success was a 3rd-and-8 bomb, on which Roethlisberger was able to connect this time to Johnson on a scripted play down the field for 41 yards, down to the five. They got into the end zone two plays later.
The majority of their third downs that they faced in the second half required them to gain at least 10 yards, none of which they converted. The only one they converted was the first of the half, needing five yards, and that drive still stalled on their own 33 on 3rd-and-12.
In other words, if they want to improve their performance on possession downs offensively, they have to improve their efficiency on first and second down. If you keep putting yourself behind the chains, you’re going to be punting, a lot. I suppose it’s a good thing that they drafted a punter, then.