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Steelers News: Finding a cure for the Steelers’ red-zone issues

Time to get you caught up on all the news and notes pertaining to the Steelers from around the internet.

Divisional Round - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Chris Boswell is awesome, but that doesn’t mean fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers want to see him kicking six field goals in Arrowhead Stadium again, as he did at the beginning of this year to provide a 2-point margin of victory in the Steelers’ AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The Steelers’ red-zone issues have continued, but the fix might not be as crazy as many believe.

Time to check on the news outside the walls of BTSC:

Since we were little children, we've been told that red means “STOP”!

But based on their red-zone offense this year, the Steelers are taking that too literally.

Red-zone inefficiency crushed the Steelers in their recent 30-9 defeat against Jacksonville. You can forget (and we'd all love to)— Ben Roethlisberger's five interceptions on Sunday. His totals of 2-for-6 and only four yards in three trips to the red zone might have been an even bigger deal.

All three of those trips resulted in Chris Boswell field goals instead of Steelers’ touchdowns. If the Steelers had broken the goal line during those possessions, they might have taken a 21-7 lead in the third quarter instead of 9-7.

Then Jacksonville would have been forced to have Blake Bortles passing instead of hammering Leonard Fournette into the line of scrimmage over and over again.

Maybe then it would have been Bortles throwing pick-sixes all over the field instead of Big Ben.

Unfortunately, red-zone issues weren't just a problem for the Steelers against the Jaguars. After five weeks of NFL play, the Steelers' performance in the red zone has been the very definition of average. When it comes to scoring touchdowns from inside the opponent's 20-yard line, the Steelers are 9-for-18. They join seven other teams with that mediocre 50-percent conversion rate.

Fifteen teams are better than that. Within that group of 23 clubs that are at 50 percent or better, only two — the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams — have had more red-zone trips which have failed to yield a touchdown.

A year ago, the Steelers were similarly mundane, ranking 16th in the league at a 54-percent touchdown clip — ranking behind the likes of Cleveland and Jacksonville.

So what's wrong?

“I have no idea,” guard David DeCastro said. “I wish I could tell you. I have no idea. I wish we could fix it.”

Well, I have an idea. Maybe give the ball to your All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell more often when you’re close to the goal line?

The Steelers had eight red-zone snaps in three series vs. the Jaguars. The last six were throws netting 12 feet.

Snaps four and five occurred up against the clock at the end of the second half with just 18 and 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts left. So don't fault attempted passes there.

But what about that ridiculous sequence on the third quarter's opening drive when they were down 7-6? The Steelers threw once from the 5-yard line and twice from the 2-yard line.

Why not stay on the ground at least once in that situation?

“We ran it in our first red-zone possession. And we wound up in third-and-8,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Then they dropped eight guys, and there was nowhere to throw the ball.”

That's true.

During that first red-zone trip, Bell did lose two yards on a second-down run after gaining four on first down.

But it seems highly “un-Steelers-like” to allow the Jacksonville Jaguars to scare them out of running the ball when they were knocking on the door at Heinz Field, simply because of one bad play in the first quarter.

Furthermore, what about the ensuing six passing plays that didn't yield much of anything, either? Using the same rationale, why didn’t the Jags scare you away from passing the ball after any of those?

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the Steelers’ woes near the goal line are a matter of execution of the plays being called, not a matter of the plays being sent in.

“Whether you’re running it or throwing it, the little details become very, very critical. And if you miss some of the little details, which we have, you’re going to end up kicking field goals and be disappointed.”

Yeah. “disappointed” is a fitting word.

The return of right tackle Marcus Gilbert will present an intriguing matchup on Sunday for the Steelers against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Across the line, Gilbert will be facing the Chiefs' talented left outside linebacker, Justin Houston.

Houston, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, leads the Chiefs with 5.5 sacks this season and has 65.5 during his NFL career.

This matchup almost didn't take place on both sides of the ball. Gilbert is returning from a three-game absence due to a hamstring injury and Houston didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday because of a calf injury. But he’ll suit up against the Steelers.

“When my back is up against the wall, I think I respond better. I think we all respond better,” Gilbert said.

In four career games against the Steelers, Houston has recorded just two sacks. He had none in the divisional playoff game in January.

Center Maurkice Pouncey expects Gilbert to be up to the challenge again.

“You have to bring your ‘A' game when you go against great players,” Pouncey said. “Either you have to match it, or they’re going to kick your (butt).”

Gilbert's return could boost an offense averaging just 90 yards rushing per game.

“He's great in the run game, and he's great in the pass game,” Pouncey said. “He's a really physical player. It shows when he's out there playing.”

With Gilbert back in the lineup, Chris Hubbard can return to the role of an extra blocking tight end in run packages.

Hubbard's involvement in the running game can't be underestimated, Gilbert said.

“Chris is so athletic that he can play that tight end position,” Gilbert said. “It gives us a bigger body in there. If we can get those edges sealed, we'll be able to pick up where we left off last year.”

Gilbert, of course, was referring to the second half of the 2016 when Le'Veon Bell became the focal point of the offense and the running game carried the Steelers to a season-ending 9-game winning streak.

“That had a lot to do with us having the extra tight end,” Gilbert said. “He's able to move and we can disguise a lot of things.”

Bell rushed for a franchise postseason-record 170 yards in the divisional playoff win.

“We know they’re explosive,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You have to make sure you cover all the gaps with them.”