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Steelers' offense searches for remedy

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 10:02 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell carries the ball against the Raiders on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, at O.co Coliseum.

The stat sheet provides the Steelers' offense a sobering reality.

The Steelers (2-5), who play at New England (6-2) on Sunday, rank 29th in scoring, 23rd in total offense and 30th in red-zone touchdown percentage. Only winless Jacksonville and Tampa Bay have fewer than the Steelers' 11 touchdowns (eight passing, three rushing).

The Steelers have scored 20 points only twice in a game — and lost both (against Minnesota and Chicago). They have averaged 18.7 points the past three games, including wins over the New York Jets and Baltimore.

“We're just not clicking yet,” running back Le'Veon Bell said. “Once we get there, we'll put up some points. I just can't put my finger on why we're struggling in the red zone.”

It seemingly has little to do with scheme or strategy because the Steelers have moved the ball between the 20s. But they consistently stall in the red zone, in part, because a 30th-ranked ground game doesn't command respect to keep defensive backs from manhandling the Steelers' diminutive receivers as the field shrinks.

Now the Steelers head to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., with a banged-up offensive line that needs to be at its best against a team willing to engage in a shootout.

“We're not executing at as high a level as we should,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “In order to win a lot of ballgames, you have to score touchdowns. The whole emphasis this week has been creating different type plays that can help us when we get into the red zone.

“We have to finish off drives. We have to have a sense of urgency. We know the Patriots can put points on the board, so we have to take advantage of our opportunities.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he isn't holding anything back in the first quarter despite a reluctance to deviate from a 10-play script designed to bolster the offense's confidence.

“We're not a feel-out-the-defense type of team, which I know some West Coast guys do,” Haley said. “They're showing you every formation they've got to see how you're going to play to it. I've never really believed in that.

“You better run your best plays because you may not have another chance. We're running what we think are our best runs and passes. We've had some success.

“Other than (against Tennessee in Week 1), it's the second or third series before we get going. We've got to just keep trying to dig and figure out what gives us the best chance to get out of the gates a little better.”

The defense has held opponents to 21 points or fewer the past three games. But that's not good enough to complement an offense averaging 17.9 points per game.

Haley said the causes of the Steelers' offensive woes are plentiful yet simple.

“We're finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “It's a little bit of everything. There's no one issue.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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