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Todd Haley points to offensive woes outside of red zone

While the Pittsburgh Steelers have had an obvious problem converting in the red zone, offensive coordinator Todd Haley sees another problem with how the team executes before getting inside their opponent's 20-yard line.

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While the Pittsburgh Steelers are ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per game, with almost a 400-yard average, they're also ranked 23rd in the league in points per game, with an average of 20.7.

After six games and a 3-3 record, questions have been piling up for this team as to why they've failed to score more points. This is the case despite their offense having a barrage of weapons; Le'Veon Bell is second in the league in both rushing yardage and yards from scrimmage. Antonio Brown is second in the league in receiving yardage after compiling nearly a 1,500-yard season in 2013. Ben Roethlisberger is a former Pro Bowl quarterback who has been the team's franchise quarterback for the past decade, and there are other players on the unit who have been to multiple Pro Bowls in Maurkice Pouncey and Heath Miller.

Analysts, fans and even former Steelers have offered their opinions as to why the Steelers aren't scoring more points in 2014. One of the more readily identifiable problems exists in terms of the team's red-zone performance. The Steelers' offense converts a touchdown from a drive getting them inside their opponent's 20-yard line only 36.84 percent of the time. That ranks them at 31st, next to last, in the NFL.

But offensive coordinator Todd Haley sees other problems with the offense that contribute to the lack of scoring. While noting the Steelers' lack of points in the red zone is a problem, he sees that there's more to the Steelers' failures on offense than just that lone statistic.

"I did a study [Wednesday] night," Haley said, according to Scott Brown of ESPN,. "It's easy to statistically point at the red zone and say we just aren't good in the red zone. But I came up with 11 plays, getting knocked out with a sack or a penalty, in the fringe area, that we got no points. We dropped balls in the end zone that cost us four points because we had to settle for a field goal. Touchdowns came off the board against Cleveland the first game. I counted 37 points [from] non-red zone plays that you would statistically look at that we left out on the field by getting no points in most cases."

This 37 points through six games would add approximately six points to the team's points-per-game average and would place them in the same range with offenses such as the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, all of which are ranked just outside the top-ten in NFL scoring. If you want to take it a step further, you could also argue that six more points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have kept the game out of reach and the team would now be 4-2 instead of 3-3. 

But don't worry, there's no need for you to make that calculation because Haley has already done it for you.

"We would be averaging 26.5 points and it would match up with 400 yards per game, and we would be up there where we need to be scoring points, and we would probably have at least one, maybe two more wins."

Yes, it's true that, if the Steelers kicked more field goals, their scoring average would be higher; and it's fathomable that if two of those field goals came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this team would have a winning record. But does acknowledging that statistic and the 'what-if' scenario help in any way to fix the problem?

While the team struggles to win consecutive games and people point to their problems on the defensive side of the ball, there are plenty of issues with the offense that have just as big an impact on the outcomes of their games. The Steelers' top running back and top wide receiver are both ranked second in yardage for their respective positions in the NFL, and that's without the added yardage they might have now if the offense was able to finish more drives. Though the study that Haley cites seems to take the focus away from the team's red zone failures, he insists he's not dismissing that as part of the problem.

"We would take those 37 points in a heartbeat. Yes, we want to score when we get in the red zone. We want to score touchdowns. But we have to be a smart football team in that fringe field-goal area because we can't afford not to get those three points, and we end up with zero, like it has happened too many times this season in six games." 

In 2013, lots of noise was made about the lack of targets for Antonio Brown after the first two games, when the Steelers averaged less than ten points on offense (including the Titans spotting them a safety to start the season). Though the team lost by 17 to the Chicago Bears, the offense was more productive with Antonio Brown catching nine passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

Maybe the team needs to find more-efficient ways to target their stars or maybe they need to make sure they can get those field goals that Haley was talking about. But there's no doubt about whether this team needs to score more points, whether inside or outside of the red zone. 

Though the most successful teams in the Steelers' recent history have lived off of defense, it's obvious the team is rebuilding on that side of the ball. If this team is to be successful, the offense must take charge and also become one of the league-leaders in points, not just in yards.