Offense Still Struggling In Situational Football

I talked about the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers are in a league of parity this season with no team dominant, and all flawed, in an article earlier today. That remains no less true now than when I wrote it; however, there is still plenty that they can do, especially on offense, to give themselves a leg up.

And that starts with playing a much better game when it comes to situational football. The Steelers put up 29 points yesterday, for example, but it was a game in which they could have easily put up 40 or more. It’s the second week in a row in which they failed to put a team away when they had an opportunity.

I’m talking of course about two key areas: extending drives on third (and fourth) down and turning trips inside the red zone into touchdowns, rather than field goals. The Steelers looked as though they were going to start off on fire in both areas, but they fizzled fast in the second half.

They scored a touchdown on their opening drive, a drive in which they had to convert on third and five on just the third play of the game, picking up gains of 11 and seven yards from the 20-yard line and in, the latter being a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.

They went three-and-out on their second drive when Ben Roethlisberger could not quite hit the narrow window between two defenders for Eli Rogers on third and six, when they were backed up on their own 14-yard line at the time, which helped allow the Bengals to answer with a touchdown drive of 53 yards.

But the offense responded quickly, never even facing a third-down situation, nor getting into the red zone, because Roethlisberger was able to find his rookie wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster from 31 yards out.

That was pretty much all of the offensive success that they would have for the day in situational football.

After the first drive in which they converted once on third down and connected inside the red zone, the offense subsequently failed to convert on nine of their 10 final third-down opportunities, a number of them coming in short-yardage.

They did get a couple via defensive penalty thanks to the Bengals’ lack of discipline, and they converted on fourth down on a fake punt, but they also failed to convert on an offensive play on fourth down as well.

And they got into the red zone five more times after that first drive, unable to score another touchdown from that range, ultimately only doing so once in six trips for a touchdown percentage of just 16 percent, which is crucially bad.

At some point, of course, the Steelers are going to lose a game simply because they cannot convert in situational football, unless they begin to improve. Execution has been lacking, and missed assignments have played their part. But this is a trend that needs to be tamped down before it costs them.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Pete DelleGrazie

    Where was Watson lining up on these runs? He looked like he was in a pistol formation .. I know that Ben was under center but Watson just seemed to not get any power because he was so close to the QB pre-snap.
    Also, when was the last time 7 ran an effective sneak? 2008??

  • #beatthepats

    They need to get more creative, did anyone not think they were throwing after watson didnt convert the first time? And why was he back there without nix?

  • Edo M

    This is Steelers football…Dominate the clock, rack up all kinds of yards….kick field goals. This is not a new problem. What else can you blame other than play calling/coaching?

  • Bill

    Over dependence on Brown & Bell certainly seems to be part of the problem. Bell’s total yards look great but 3.8 yards per carry is not so great. Brown was targeted 10 times but had only 4 catches for 65 yards and one TD. I do not know why Bryant is not being used but it seems to me to have a player with his height and speed and not try to get him involved is highly questionable. And do you think Bell will last through the season at his present workload and not miss any games?

  • Steeldog22

    I’m willing to throw on third and one, but I’d like another receiver or two not running a go route thank you.

  • Bill

    Gotta love the defense though! I called them porous at times but they have certainly answered the bell during the last two weeks. Hope they can keep it up.

  • pcantidote

    I just feel like we are too predictable. It is ok to not always run on first and second down. And give Bell a break, especially after big plays. Conner’s fresh legs should be utilized more.

  • Paddy

    They won’t beat the Pats kicking 5 field goals

  • Paddy

    The 3.8 is because both their tackles stink, DeCastro is the reason he got 3.8 or else it would have been half that.

  • John Noh

    They seem to be overthinking things when they get near the goal line. Just line up Nix in front of Bell or even Watson and run it three times.

  • Paddy

    No they can’t do that because Haley wants touchdown passes and he has led Ben astray.

  • JT

    I disagree. Not that Conner shouldn’t be used more, but one of the things that makes Bell such a rare talent is his conditioning. The fact that he’s able to stay in the game is a huge asset. When the defense wears down, he doesn’t. And we saw against the Jags, that it’s not as simply as plugging in Conner as a replacement until he can improve in blocking.

  • WreckIess

    I often wonder when the day will come that no one on this site will mention the Patriots in a situation that clearly has nothing to do with them.

  • cencalsteeler

    I feel alot of our failed situational football is due to the over use of Bell and Brown. Defenses tighten up on the third downs and key on both of them. Without Bell and Brown the O is just OK. We need to get more guys involved so it’s not so predictable and we can keep rolling if one goes down.

  • Steve Johnson

    This offense isn’t efficient at all; yesterdays game, four times they had 3rd down and one to go, they failed on all four attempts. Is that on the O/C or the QB? I’m going to say the O/C; Todd Haley has to do a better job designing and calling short yardage plays and running plays in the Red Zone. And speaking of Offense, I think Martavis Bryant is an idiot! However, in his defense, I can’t understand why Todd Haley can’t design better plays for Bryant (something better than end-and-arounds). I understand #84 and #26 are the primary targets, but C’mon, two targets? Kind of makes you wonder.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Yeah, it seems there is no middle ground with this QB (or OC? not sure which), but if they don’t run on 3rd and 1, then there is no high percentage pass as the 2nd option, it’s just sling it downfield.

  • dennisdoubleday

    It always has to do with them, in the long run. They seemingly have our number, and the only times we get to the big game is when we don’t have to play them because somebody else took them out.

  • Steve Johnson


  • Michael Conrad

    Free speech is a killer. Sounds like you just want the facts as you want them. His statement is a good one . Without improving the passing game and play calling they will not beat a very good team with field goals.

  • Biggie

    Our redzone and short yardage play calling has been horrendous. They look confused most of the time when they are running plays in these situations. Our OL should have no problem moving the pile for 1 yard especially with Nix, Watson and Bell in the backfield but they’ve got to quit setting up so deep and hesitating. They need to set up shorter and blow it up with Nix leading the way. In the redzone with Brown, Bryan, JuJu and McDonald there should be no way we can’t find mismatches with this group. The run call at the goalline before the half says it all. The Coaching staff’s job is to put the offense/defense in best position to succeed and they are not doing that on either side of the ball consistently enough. Offensively we are leaving way to many points on the board each game.

  • NinjaMountie

    Every week I’ve been on here complaining about the play calling. I’m starting to hate myself for doing it. I try to be more optimistic.
    This team is sooo close. We aren’t going to be perfect and we’ll have our warts. We have to control the things we can control, though. Being smarter is one of those things.
    I would like to say I was surprised at that run at the end of the first half….but I can’t. This is the boneheaded play calling I’m starting to expect from Haley. It seems that whenever we are in a critical situation that he tries to cutsie his way out of it. Maybe he thinks he is outsmarting the opponent but he’s only outsmarting himself.
    Look, in that situation you throw the ball every time. Yup, the defense will expect that but so what!!! Just beat them.
    On 3rd and less than 1, quit trying to be cute. With our OL and stud RB you run the ball. Will they expect it? Yup!!! However, with out OL and RB we should come out the winner of that situation more often than not.
    Sorry, rant over.

  • Joseph DeFazio

    Full house backfield, wing T, use 2 OL in the backfield and hand off to Watson… I dunno, but something has to change. 2

  • Intense Camel

    Doesn’t matter how well conditioned a RB is, after awhile attrition behins to set it in, injury becomes more likley. While he may not be gassed, he is not 100%. it would behooove them to always have a fresh back in the backfield. They don’t seem to understand this.

  • PaeperCup

    Use the big guys. FB and TEs. That’s all I gotta say.

  • #7

    29 points will. And if it doesn’t, that’s a deficiency in the defense not the offense.

  • WreckIess

    No it really doesn’t. We’ve seen them once in the playoffs in the past decade. No matter what the reasons were, we don’t see them often there. When we do that’s the time to worry about them, but as for now, this long standing obsession with them is unnecessary.

  • WreckIess

    No one’s trying to limit free speech… You all can say what you want, but that doesn’t make this obsession with the Patriots (that’s going on 9 months now) any less ridiculous.

  • Mark

    Ask Haley to define “situational football”. There will be a puzzled look and complete silence……

  • SteelersDepot Commenter

    We do play the Patriots in week 15, and considering we are tied with them and the Chiefs at 5-2, that game could have huge playoff implications. The Steelers haven’t had a higher playoff seed than the Patriots since 2008 (the year Brady tore his ACL). And considering we have never beaten Brady in Foxborough, playoff seeds matter if we want to get to the Super Bowl.

    So yes, even though we do not see them often in the playoffs, 4 of the last 6 AFC championship games go through New England. Although Week 15 may be a little far down the road to worry about, it’s ludicrous to think we should not think about the Patriots just because we rarely see them in the playoffs.

  • dennisdoubleday

    When you do run into them in the playoffs, it’s too late to change what you’re doing. If you’re planning ahead, maybe you figure that out.

  • WreckIess

    You don’t game plan to beat a team 7 weeks before you play them or for the possibility that you play them in the playoffs. That’s just not how gameplans work and that’s how you get beat by the others teams on your schedule.

  • WreckIess

    I never said that that game wasn’t a big deal. I never said that we don’t play them this season. Neither of those things. What I DID say is that bringing them up every single day since that January game is ridiculous. I don’t get how this is such a hard concept to understand.

    WHEN WE DO actually play them is when we should worry about them. The day after beating the Bengals though? Not so much. Because they have absolutely nothing to do with that.

  • RMSteeler

    I guess 7 shots in camp isn’t enough to improve play in those situations anymore. It helped in the first year of 2 pt conversions, and I think their best RZ in forever that year. Back to the same RZ woes and no more 2 pt success either. Try Nix leading Watson in short situations, not Ben missing short passes in the end zone too.

  • Alan Tman

    There’s no reason Bryant can’t catch two slants and two comeback routes a game except they are phasing him out. This is the same mistake they made with LeGarrette Blount. They were not willing to give the guy 5 carries a game. Yes they both need to mature, but are great talents that could help your team win if they are happy. MB10 has now probably gone past the place of no return, and will be inactive for a few weeks.

  • Alan Tman

    Watch out for the Ben police.