Steelers' Art Rooney II seeks improved red-zone efficiency in 2018
The numbers inside the opposing 20-yard line this season were enough to make even the casual Steelers observer see red.
The offense ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in red-zone efficiency, finishing No. 22 in touchdowns scored inside the 20.
The top three teams in red-zone touchdown percentage? The Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots — the team that knocked the Steelers out of the AFC playoffs in the divisional round and the two Super Bowl participants.
Perhaps that was not lost on Steelers president Art Rooney II, who mentioned red-zone efficiency as one of the areas that needs improving in 2018. The other was third-down efficiency, where the Steelers actually ranked second behind the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think over the course of the season, we felt like we could be better on third-down conversions and red-zone conversions,” Rooney said Wednesday during an interview with reporters. “But, overall, I think it's one of those years where we've got to look at everything and try to figure out where we can get better.
“I don't think there's anything that kind of really sticks out in the way maybe that decision was made.”
The “decision” Rooney referenced was the Steelers moving on from offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose contract was not renewed after six seasons. The Steelers will try to make progress in Rooney's designated areas under Randy Fichtner, who was elevated to Haley's job while still holding the title of quarterbacks coach.
If the Steelers can sustain longer drives and score touchdowns more frequently inside the red zone, that can lessen the time the defense, which regressed at the end of the season, stays on the field.
The red zone was an area Rooney sought improvement in after the 2016 season when the Steelers reached the AFC championship game. But the offense regressed after finishing No. 12 in red-zone scoring in 2016.
The Steelers' scoring percentage inside the 20 dropped from 59.18 in 2016 to 50.79 last season. This despite the Steelers having 3.9 red-zone scoring attempts per game, which ranked third in the NFL behind New England and the Los Angeles Rams.
The Steelers also regressed in goal-to-go situations, dropping from No. 2 (85 percent) in 2016 to No. 11 (75.8 percent) in 2017.
In Haley's six seasons, the Steelers never finished higher than No. 10 in red-zone percentage. He also clashed with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and recently had his third-down play-calling questioned by running back Le'Veon Bell.
Rooney didn't provide a reason for Haley's departure.
“I think that there are times when it makes sense to make a change, and so that decision was made” Rooney said. “I thought Todd brought a lot to us, and we had some success while he was here. Hopefully, we can build on some of that going forward. Our new coordinator is very familiar to everybody, so it's not like we're making major changes, and I think under the circumstances, that's appropriate.”