If you were looking for something different from the passing game this year in quarterback Mitch Trubisky, then the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense that showed up for the opener may well have disappointed you. Well…if you watched the game and were a Steelers fan, you were bound to be disappointed, anyway.
But talking specifically about the passing game and ball passing locations, Trubisky’s passing chart really didn’t look all too dissimilar from that of Ben Roethlisberger’s passing charts over his final two seasons after having his elbow reconstructed. In other words, there were wide open spaces almost unblemished over the middle of the field, especially beyond 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
So how do you address that? Offensive coordinator Matt Canada had a flippant solution to the proposed ‘problem’. “Throw it there”, he told the reporter who asked him that question, via transcript. Instead, he wanted to focus his time on situational struggles on third down. But he also admitted the Steelers “were fortunate to win”, or more specifically the offense was fortunate to be carried over the finish line to a victory.
“Defense, special teams, we made enough, but we’ve got to be better on third down”, Canada said. “We were four out of 15 on third down, and out of those 15 third downs, nine of them were third-and-five or less. That’s what you want, so we have to execute better there”.
That the Steelers had so many manageable third-down situations is excellent, and signals a positive improvement from last season’s offense, in which they struggled to provide themselves with favorable downs and distances on early-down plays.
But the fact that they had such poor success actually converting on those manageable third-down situations is troubling. Is the solution finding more targets over the middle? Of course not. There is no singular solution that can address the issue in a vacuum.
But the lack of effort over the middle of the field in the passing game, especially in the intermediate and deep portions of the field, is something that we have been talking about here for the past couple of years. It wouldn’t be an issue if they were having more success outside of the hash marks, but it feels like there is something missing, certainly, when you look at the passing charts and see such a void.
And I’m not anticipating that suddenly changing. Trubisky was a little bit more adventurous of the middle earlier in his career, but not by a lot. It’s possible that we do start to see the offense work over the middle of the field more, particularly with Pat Freiermuth and Chase Claypool, but that may take some time to develop.