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Crunching the Numbers: Evaluating the Pittsburgh Steelers first quarter of 2018

Success in September has not always been the Steeler way.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Coach Mike Tomlin mentioned in his Tuesday press conference how the team just went through their first quarter evaluation for 2018. When asked about the reason for the evaluation, Tomlin stated he generally does it every year after the first four games. With 2018 being the second-worst four-game start of a Tomlin-coached Steelers team, the evaluation needed to take place whether it was precedented or not.

First Four of 2018

With the Steelers currently 1-2-1, there is reason for concern in salvaging the 2018 season. The team is currently ranked 10th in offensive scoring, third in passing yards, and 28th in rushing yards. The team is also ranked dead last in giveaways, leading the league with nine.

On the defensive side of the ball, the highest league ranking the Steelers have managed is sixth in the number of takeaways. The next highest team ranking for the defense is 21st in rushing yards allowed. The Steelers are toward the bottom of the league otherwise, ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in passing yards surrendered.

The rankings on special teams are another reason for concern. The Steelers are ranked 31st in field-goal percentage and 30th in PAT percentage. They are also 28th in average punting yards. In the return game, they are ranked 23rd in kick off returns and a much-improved 10th in punt returns.

There have been many reports about how the Steelers have been the most penalized team in the NFL so far in 2018. There have been 42 accepted penalties against the Steelers. On the flipside, the Steelers have also been the beneficiary of the most penalties of any team in the first four games, accepting 39 penalties called against their opponents.

Historical Perspective

The Steelers have never gone 1-2-1 in the first quarter of a sixteen-game season. In fact, they have never had this record in any quarter of a season since 1978 when the league expanded to 16 games. The only other time the Steelers had a season of 16 games which included a tie was in 2002 when the Steelers went 2-1-1 in the third quarter of the season on their way to a record of 10-5-1.

The Steelers have only had two seasons under Mike Tomlin where they were not at least .500 in the first four games. Other than this current season, 2013 was the Steelers’ worst start when they began their season 0-4.

Strangely, the Steelers have never gone 1-3 in the first quarter under Coach Tomlin, and have only had three instances of this record in any quarter of the season. Under Bill Cowher (1992-2006), the team started 1-3 three times (2000, 2002, and 2006). Interesting enough, under Coach Cowher the Steelers never began the season 4-0 or 0-4. Under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers had a record for the first quarter of the season of 1-3 three times as well (1986, 1988, and 1990). Is important to note that even though Coach Noll began coaching in 1969, a quarter of the season consisted of four game starting in 1978 when the regular season was expanded from 14 games to 16 games.

The first quarter of 2018 is the sixth time under Coach Tomlin the Steelers did not have at least a .500 record in any quarter of the season. The Steelers were at least 2-2 on 39 of the 45 four-game quarters. Of the other five instances, the Steelers have made the playoffs in two of those seasons. In both of those circumstances, the Steelers finished no worse than 3-1 in any other quarter of the season.

Only five times has a Tomlin-coached team gone 4-0 in any quarter of the season, with none of those instances in the first four games. In fact, the Steelers have not began a season 4–0 since their Super Bowl-winning season of 1979. Additionally, the Steelers began 4-0 in 1978 as well when they began the season 7-0.


While considering the state of the Steelers after the first quarter of the season, it is important to point out how fan confidence basically goes as far back as the last game. Even if the Steelers were 3-1 but were coming off their miserable performance against the Ravens, there would still be a high level of concern. On the other hand, if the Steelers were 1-3 and coming off a dominant victory over Baltimore, fans would have confidence in the team trending in the right direction.

Starting strong has not been the norm for the Steelers under Coach Tomlin. In 12 seasons, the Steelers have finished above .500 in the first quarter of the season five times, with each time the Steelers going on to make the playoffs. In order to reach the postseason after beginning 1-2-1, the Steelers will need to have marked improvement along the way. With the defense ranked towards the bottom of the league and an offense which seems unbalanced, turn-over heavy, and out of sync at times, there will be a lot to overcome for the 2018 Steelers to make the playoffs.