The 2016 NFL season is only six weeks old, but fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers have already experienced the extreme ups-and-downs that come with fandom. How can a team with such Super Bowl potential look so dull against one of the weakest opponents in the league?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are averaging 34 points per game when they win, and 9 in their two losses. Why does this happen? How does a team with an elite quarterback, and arguably the best running back, wide receiver, and offensive line in the National Football League have such extremes?
Here’s a hint.
Play Call Numbers by Week:
Week 1 @ Washington
Pass: 37 Run: 30 Pass Percent: 55.2%
Points Scored: 38
Week 2 vs Cincinnati
Pass: 37 Run: 36 Pass Percent: 50.7%
Points Scored: 24
Week 3 @ Philadelphia
Pass: 44 Run: 10 Pass Percent: 81.5%
Points Scored: 3
Week 4 vs Kansas City
Pass: 27 Run: 26 Pass Percent: 50.9%
Points Scored: 43
Week 5 vs New York
Pass: 47 Run: 24 Pass Percent: 66.2%
Points Scored: 31
Week 6 @ Miami
Pass: 35 Run: 16 Pass Percent: 68.6%
Points Scored: 15
I’m no mathematician, but these statistics show an obvious and strong correlation between balance of attack and points scored. These numbers are evidence that Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley drop the game plan, and get pass-happy when they fall into a hole. While this is a standard practice in the game of football, it is important to still keep some balance in your game plan. Le'Veon Bell is capable of breaking off game-changing runs when the defense is prepared for a pass play.
Going into halftime, losing 16-8 to Miami, there's absolutely no reason to change your plan of attack yet. You're down one touchdown with a hobbled quarterback, and one of the best running back duos in the NFL-- why are you calling so many pass plays? An injured quarterback at the helm should be more than enough reason to get back to the roots of Pittsburgh Steelers football-- ground and pound running. The Steelers defense halted the opening drive of the second half with a blocked field goal-- which should have provided a huge shift in momentum. That was their chance to take over control of the game. How did the ensuing offensive drive end? An interception caused by a terrible decision from a hobbled Roethlisberger.
While the lack of balance strongly influenced the outcome of the game, it was not the only factor that contributed to the loss. The defense's performance in Miami was flat-out poor. A stellar offense needs to make up for poor defensive play, and vice versa. The offensive and defensive performances are a balancing game in itself. When both units are off, as was the case in Philadelphia and Miami, disaster ensues.
Miami was in charge for the entire game on Sunday, pounding the ball with Jay Ajayi, and following it up with dump off passes to Jarvis Landry. The Steelers defense had no idea what to expect every single snap. The Dolphins balanced attack kept the Steelers defense on their toes, and allowed Miami to control the time of possession, 36 to 23.
Not only does a balanced offensive plan keep the defense guessing, it keeps the opposing offense off of the field. Throwing the ball every single down provides more opportunities for the clock to stop. If you don’t let the opposing team’s offense on the field, it makes it very difficult for them to put up points.
With Landry Jones in line to start this week against the New England Patriots, a tough day could be ahead. You have to imagine that Bill Belichick and his team are expecting what every Steelers fan is-- a heavy run attack led by Le'Veon Bell, which could make it tough for the offense to get going. The confidence of Landry Jones will be the deciding factor in how this offense performs. Todd Haley must call plays that will maintain a balanced offensive attack, while allowing Jones to get in a rhythm.