The Pittsburgh Steelers enter Week 8 last in the NFL in yards gained on first down plays, according to Pro Football Reference. In total the Steelers offense is averaging just four yards per play on first downs and on Thursday, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was made aware of his units ranking and while he seemed surprised to hear that, he doesn’t seem to be too worried about overall as the team prepares to play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
“Really?” Canada asked.
Canada was then asked if that aspect of the Steelers offense was self-scouted quite a bit during the team’s bye week last week.
“We want to get everything better,” Canada said. “Yeah. I mean, we want to get everything better. I think, you know, in one breath you can talk about, you know, trying to be efficient and efficient, you know, staying ahead of the chains. Then you can start to get that number up if you take some deeper shots on first down and hit them, then that number would go up. So, again, all that matters is winning. I’m not minimizing your point, but I think as we talked about last week, third down is a real critical stat for us. We’re pretty good on third and short. We’re not very good on third and long. And that’s certainly not any kind of rocket scientist statement, I know you’re all gonna realize that.”
Explosive plays would indeed help the Steelers on first down, or for that matter, any down. The Steelers offense has had problems all season when it comes to creating explosive plays and even outside of first downs.
So far this season, the Steelers offense has just three explosive plays of 20 yards or longer and just of those were deep passes, which in the NFL gamebooks is considered any pass that travels more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage in the air. For the season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has attempted just six total deep pass attempts of more than 15 yards down the field and he’s completed just two of them.
For whatever it’s worth, the Steelers offense enters Week 8 with a successful play rate on first downs of 47.9%. Obviously, you would like to see that number greater than 50 percent. Without kneel downs being included; the Steelers offense has an even split of run/pass plays on first downs as well entering Week 8.
Will the Steelers offense be able to improve in first down yards gained on Sunday in Cleveland against the Browns? We’ll see but it is worth pointing out that the Browns defense enters Sunday’s game with an NFL-best 4.6 yards allowed on first downs so far this season. The Browns defense has also allowed just eight total explosive plays of 20 yards or longer on first downs all season with four of those being deep pass completions.
I suspect the Steelers offense will look to run a lot on first downs against the Browns on Sunday. Even so, I think you will see Roethlisberger attempt two or three deep first down passes in that game as well. If he can hit a few of those deep pass attempts, it could wind up making a huge difference when it comes to the outcome of the game.
“But I do think first down for us, you know, continuing to keep it manageable, but obviously having some explosives would help,” Canada said on Thursday.