Four Downs: Could it be time for Steelers to take to air?
1. RETURN TO THE AIR
The Steelers turned their season around last year at about this time when they shifted their offense from a pass-heavy attack to one that leaned heavily on running back Le'Veon Bell.
This season, the raw numbers suggest a turn in the other direction might be prudent.
The Steelers rank 27th in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (3.6). They rank sixth in yards per passing attempt (7.0).
Over the course of the current five-game winning streak, the disparity is even starker. The Steelers are averaging 8.2 yards per passing attempt — a figure that would by far lead the league over the course of the full season.
Over the past four games, however, the Steelers are averaging 3.1 yards per rush. That would rank them 31st out of 32 teams in that category for the full season.
The Steelers have 26 rushes of 10 or more yards this season, but they have 27 carries that went for negative yardage. Just three teams have fewer carries of at least 20 yards (the Steelers have three).
2. FIVE HUNDRED-PLUS
It's yet another illustration of the No. 1/1A dynamic in the AFC hierarchy since the turn of the century: Four days after the Steelers extended an impressive superlative streak, the New England Patriots have a chance to one-up it.
Actually, three-up it. With a win Sunday against Oakland in Mexico City, the Patriots can clinch their 17th consecutive non-losing season. That would tie them with the Cleveland Browns (yes, they once, long ago, were a model franchise) for the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
The Steelers on Thursday clinched their 14th non-losing season in a row. Impressive but — as usual in this era — still behind the Patriots.
3. THIRD AND ... THROW?
A fact regarding the Steelers' struggling red-zone (31st in the NFL) and goal-to-go offense: In third-and-goal situations this season, regardless of the line of scrimmage, they have passed every time.
In third-and-2 situations regardless of location, the Steelers have thrown 92.9 percent of the time this season — more than on any third down of fewer than 10 yards except third-and-5.
4. PRIMETIME PLAYERS
The Steelers are in the midst of four consecutive night games, three of which are at home. That's been good for them historically.
Thursday's win against Tennessee improved the Steelers to 23-7 in night games at home in the 17-season history of Heinz Field. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 19-3 in home night games. Coach Mike Tomlin 17-5 in such instances.