Tim Benz: There's a simple solution to the Steelers' red-zone woes
Since we were little children, we've been told that red means “STOP”!
Based on their red-zone offense this year, the Steelers are being too literal.
The Steelers red-zone inefficiency crushed the team in its recent 30-9 defeat against Jacksonville. Forget — and we'd all love to do so — Ben Roethlisberger's five interceptions Sunday. His totals of 2 for 6 for just 4 yards over three trips in the red zone might have been an even bigger deal.
All three of those trips resulted in Chris Boswell field goals instead of Steelers touchdowns. If the Steelers break the goal line during those possessions, they could have potentially gone in front 21-7 in the third quarter instead of 9-7.
Then Jacksonville would have been forced to have Blake Bortles passing instead of hammering Leonard Fournette into the line of scrimmage over and over again.
Maybe then it would have been Bortles throwing pick-6s all over the field instead of Big Ben.
Red-zone issues weren't just a problem for the Steelers against the Jaguars.
After five weeks of NFL play, the Steelers' performance in the red zone has been the definition of average. When it comes to scoring touchdowns from inside the opponent's 20-yard line, the Steelers are 9 for 18. They join seven other teams with that same mediocre 50 percent conversion rate.
Fifteen teams are better than that. Within that group of 23 clubs that are at 50 percent or better, only two — the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams — have had more red-zone trips that have failed to yield a touchdown.
A year ago, the Steelers were similarly mundane, ranking 16th in the league at a 54 percent touchdown clip — behind the likes of Cleveland and Jacksonville.
So what's wrong?
“I have no idea,” guard David DeCastro said. “I wish I could tell you. I have no idea. I wish we could fix it.”
Well, I have an idea. Maybe give the ball to your All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell more often when you are close to the goal line?
The Steelers had eight red zone snaps over three series vs. the Jaguars. The last six were throws that netted 12 feet.
Snaps four and five occurred up against the clock at the end of the second half with just 18 and 11 seconds remaining. And no timeouts left. So don't fault attempted passes there.
But what about that ridiculous sequence on the third quarter's opening drive down 7-6? The Steelers threw once from the 5-yard line and twice from the 2-yard line.
Why not stay on the ground at least once in that situation?
“We ran it in our first red-zone possession. And we wound up in third-and-8,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Then they dropped eight guys, and there was nowhere to throw the ball.”
During that first red zone trip Bell did lose 2 yards on a second-down run after gaining 4 on first down.
But it seems highly “un-Steelers-like” to allow the Jacksonville Jaguars to scare them off of running the ball in tight at Heinz Field because of one bad play in the first quarter.
Furthermore, what about the ensuing six passing plays that didn't yield much of anything, either? The Jags didn't scare you off passing the ball after any of those?
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the Steeler woes near the goal line are a matter of execution of the plays being called. And not a matter of the play designs being sent in.
“Whether you are running it or throwing it, the little details become very, very critical. And if you miss some of the little details, which we have, you are going to end up kicking field goals and be disappointed.”
Yeah. “Disappointed” is a fitting word.
I'd still argue, though, that there is a lesser chance of being “disappointed” in the missed details if there are fewer details to mess up. And lining up to run the ball at least once from the 5-yard line could remedy that problem.
Perhaps we should broaden our horizons. Maybe the Steelers red-zone concerns aren't about play calling or execution.
Maybe, at least at home, the issue is in-game entertainment. The Jumbotron crew should investigate doing something besides pouring imaginary ketchup of out the giant bottles flanking the screen.
Ketchup is too basic. It stains. And it takes forever to get moving no matter how much you shake it up.
That's a little too emblematic of the Steelers red zone offense these days.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.