One topic that has been frequently discussed about the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past few seasons is their success on opening drives and the early portions of the game. This is an area in which they were really bad the past couple of seasons, though they have made some strides this year
They have scored five times on their opening drives this season, including four touchdowns. They also missed a field goal attempt on the opening drive of their last game, and they have only turned the ball over on an opening drive one time, with six punts. Still, there’s always room for improvement, and head coach Mike Tomlin was asked yesterday about the team’s ‘scripted’ plays and how important they are.
“Sometimes we’re just simply gathering information or setting other things up. That’s a component of the scripting as well”, he noted. “Games aren’t determined in the first 10 to 12 snaps. They never are. I’m personally not losing a lot of sleep over initial drives”.
That may be true, but of course it’s always better to score points on a drive than not. And they do rank tied for 25th in the league in terms of points scored in the first quarters of games, which is an indication that their scripted drives are not key producers of points, for whatever reasons that may be.
“I’m not overly concerned about that perspective”, Tomlin went on. “There’s a lot that we’re trying to get done with that scripting, whether it’s informational, particularly against an opponent like Minnesota that we’re unfamiliar with and we’re working on a short week. Oftentimes, you’re simply gathering information or setting things up for later in the contest”.
But as much as you may be looking to discover what your opponent’s tendencies are, you’re also always trying to advance the ball and to score. You never design a play in the first quarter that is designed intentionally to be unsuccessful in the hope that it sets up a successful play in the future.
It may not surprise you to learn that, while the Steelers rank toward the bottom in first-quarter points, they are right near the top in fourth-quarter points, behind only the New Orleans Saints, for the second-most in the league. A couple of recent fourth-quarter surges obviously play a role in that.
Having a more experienced and disciplined offense would go a long way toward improving their first-quarter success, though. I don’t know of any outlet that actively tracks team penalties by quarter, but if they did, I’m sure the Steelers would be in the top 10 there, as they often stall their own drives through unforced errors.