The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing for third and manageable. To their credit, they’ve largely done so this year. The problem is their third down attempts are resulting in far more punts than first downs. Speaking with reporters Wednesday via Steelers.com, QB Mitch Trubisky knows the team’s third down offense must get better. A lot better.
“Execution,” he said when asked why the team has struggled in the fourth quarter. “Third down, we need to stay on the field. Continue to be aggressive in the fourth quarter and making those big plays.”
The Steelers’ offense has barely seen the field in the fourth quarter. In fact, they’ve run just 44 plays over the final frame, tied with Seattle for the fewest in football. There’s an obvious and direct correlation between plays run and third down success. More conversions means staying on the field, sustaining drives, and winning the play and time of possession battle.
On the year, Pittsburgh is converting just 13 of 39, 33.3% of their third downs, and even that number looks better than it should. In Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, they were just 4/15 (26.7%). In Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, they were 1/9 (11.1%). More specifically, the team has been abysmal on third down in the fourth quarter. Here’s the game-by-game log:
That’s 2/10 on third down in the fourth quarter, 20%, tied for 27th in the league.
As Dave Bryan recently talked about, the Steelers aren’t stuck in third-and-forever either. They’ve been in manageable situations, the sixth-best/lowest average yards needed on third down this season, yet they have one of the league’s lowest conversion rates. The Patriots and Browns took control of the second half, dominating time of possession and converting on third down while the Steelers routinely went three-and-out (five of nine drives). Trubisky believes the opportunities for Pittsburgh to convert are there. The execution is just missing.
“We just haven’t made the plays yet. That’s continuing to be more detailed in our preparation.”
Pittsburgh’s offense will quickly have to find that detail. While it’s only Week 4, this Sunday’s game against the New York Jets feels like a must-win. A loss to New York with a brutal part of the schedule upcoming, at Buffalo, home to Tampa Bay, followed by road games versus Miami and Philadelphia before the bye, would feel like the death of the team’s season. Beating the Jets means converting at a much higher clip on third down, especially in the fourth quarter.