The Pittsburgh Steelers have been as bad as anybody else on offense opening games for quite a while now. I’m sure Alex Kozora has all kinds of stats of the weird to quantify their early-game ineptitude, but suffice it to say that the early parts of games, the parts that are supposed to be run based off of a ‘script’ of plays, has been a failure.
Put generally, teams work during the week to put together a package of plays that they believe will be effective given what they have available that week relative to their opponent. In theory, these plays are ones you are confident you can run with success, and in a compelling sequence. That hasn’t been the way it’s worked in Pittsburgh in…years.
“I think it’s all of us. Every week we try to put together a plan of openers, which I’m sure has always been done”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada said during the week, via transcript. “You work very hard to make those be what he likes, what we all like, what we think is going to work. We just have to execute better, and to your point, we’ve got to do a better job—I’ve got to do a better job with those plays so they work”.
The ‘he’ being referred to above is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who himself this week acknowledged that he is a slow starter, and doesn’t know why. “I wish I knew”, he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had Coach tell me those things. I’ve just gotta be better. I don’t wanna say we need to start fast. We do, but it starts with the guy who has the ball in his hands”.
Of course, there are a lot more things working against them than normal. They have five new starters on offense this year, including four rookies, and Canada is in his first season as offensive coordinator. The offensive line was pretty much completely turned over from last season, as well, which is a major, major adjustment. Still, they all want to get off to a good start, especially those less familiar with their history.
“Playing fast is something that we always try to harp on, because that’s the type of team we are, I think”, rookie running back Najee Harris said yesterday, even though they clearly are not that type of team, even if they aspire to be. “We’re a fast, aggressive team. It just has to click. That’s why we really harp on that”.
It is, of course, sad if they really harp on it, because they have been very bad. In the opener, they had two possessions in the first quarter, spanning eight plays combined with a net 15 yards gained and one first down. The following week, another two drives, this time with two first downs combined, but ending in a punt and an interception. This past week consisted of a trio of three-and-out possessions in the first quarter, the third of which ended in another interception.
Their next yardage on seven first-quarter possessions is 33 yards, 28 of which came in the second week against the Raiders. They have a net loss of 12 yards this past week. They have recorded just three first downs in the first 15 minutes of each game, punting five times and being intercepted twice.
You can’t script that kind of ineptitude.