Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but when the Steelers continue to have one major issue game after game it’s difficult to not bring it up. Even after 12 games, the Steelers have still not figured out how to accomplish anything on their opening drive of each game. With NFL teams scripting the first set of plays in the game, it’s even more concerning that this is where the Steelers seem to be the most inept.
The fact the Steelers are 7-5 and the sixth seed currently for the AFC wildcard means they really should be commended for all the great things they have done! But it’s very difficult to ignore how slow the team starts offensively. While the Steelers slow start in games is something they have been able to overcome, it’s still an issue which could come back to bite them in the future. The Steelers have scored first in only four of their 12 games mainly because they shut out their opponent in the first quarter in those games. In fact, two of those four games the opening score came in the second quarter.
In this weeks installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at the Steelers’ lack of offensive production on their opening drives and how it has affected the outcome of their games.
It’s the number they’ve been stuck on since the third week of the NFL season. Since their game in San Francisco where the Steelers forced a turnover deep in the 49ers’ territory, the Steelers have not managed to score a point in their opening drive. With only three points to their name, they are tied for 31st in the NFL with the Houston Texans. Because it is a tie, this is one of the many categories where the Steelers have nobody ranked behind them.
When it comes to their opening drive, the Steelers are only averaging 3.4 plays. This average has them ranked dead last in the NFL. The next closest team is the Miami Dolphins at 3.9 players per drive. For reference sake, the Baltimore Ravens lead the league with 7.9 plays on average on their opening drives.
Another category in which the Steelers rank dead last on their opening drive is the number of yards gained. The Steelers have only averaged 4.8 yards per drive. What makes this statistic even worse is the Steelers are nearly 10 yards less than the 31st ranked team in the Miami Dolphins who average 14.2 yards. The Steelers only have 58 yards of offense in total on the season on their opening possession. Of those 58 yards, 53 of them were gained in the two games against the Patriots and Colts which happened to be the only games where the Steelers recorded a first down on their opening drive.
Since most of these stats go hand-in-hand, it’s easy to assume that with so few yards and so few plays that the Steelers also have a very short time of possession on their opening drive. This would be true as they only average 1:56 per game which is tied for 31st with the Miami Dolphins.
4 for 20
One reason the Steelers may not be super-effective on the opening drive could be they are trying to not lose the game early. This narrative could be true, but the Steelers actually have more turnovers than points on their opening possession of each game. With two fumbles and two interceptions, the Steelers have turned the ball over in four of their 12 games on their opening possession. In turn, The Steelers have given up 20 points off of those turnovers as each one of them has resulted in at least a field goal.
Behold, all of these statistics don’t necessarily mean “doom and gloom.” Interesting enough, the Steelers are 0-1 in games where they scored on their opening drive as they lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. Additionally, every game in which the Steelers have turned the ball over on the opening drive they have gone on to win, giving them a 4-0 record in 2019. While these outcomes appear to make no sense, it means there has yet to be a overwhelming correlation between the Steelers’ opening drive and their overall 2019 success to date.
As bad as the Pittsburgh Steelers have been in 2019 to open up each game, they have ironically turned their worst starts into victories. The biggest problem with this are the following questions: Can they continue to overcome slow starts? Should the Steelers continue to play it safe early in the game hoping they can turn things around? If the Steelers would manage to score on the opening drive, will it lead to even better things? Please leave your answers in the comments below!