There is one way and one way alone to win a football game on the field: score more points than your opponent. It doesn’t matter if the team has more time of possession, turnovers, sacks, or any other statistical category. If the score isn’t in your favor when the clock reaches zero, your team isn’t victorious.
The combination of scoring points and getting defensive stops is of the upmost importance, especially at key points in the game. In 2018, the Steelers were tied or had the lead in the fourth quarter in 14 of their 16 games. The fact the Steelers lost four of those games while tying another raises questions about the Steelers quality of play closing out each contest. And since points and point differential are some of the greatest statistics for measuring success, the Steelers giving up more points than what they scored in the fourth quarter for the 2018 season has to be an important issue.
The bottom line is this, the Steelers gave up 32 more points than what they scored in the fourth of their 2018 games. It is only the third time since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007 the Steelers were a negative point differential in the final quarter of games. The other two seasons, -13 in 2013 and -38 in 2009, are also years the Steelers did not qualify for the post season.
So every time the Steelers are outscored in the fourth quarter for the entire season since 2007 they have missed the playoffs. Inversely, there was one season the Steelers missed the playoffs but had a positive fourth quarter point differential. In 2012 the Steelers scored 91 points in the fourth quarter, which just so happens to be the exact same total as 2018. The difference is the 2012 Steelers only gave up 70 fourth quarter points. In fact, the Steelers held their opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter seven times and to only three points in three additional games while going 7-3. If it wasn’t for two big fourth quarter comebacks in 2012, the Steelers point differential would have been negative. Outscoring the Giants 14-0 in Week 9 to win 24-20 and the Bengals 10-0 in Week 13 in a 23-20 victory helped to overcome other shortcomings in the forth quarter which led to an 8-8 record.
Getting back to 2019, the Steelers need to get into the positive differential in forth quarter scoring if they wish to get back to the playoffs. While being in the positive doesn’t guarantee a post season birth, remaining in the negative appears to be too much to overcome. With totals of +41 and +40 the two seasons prior to 2018, it is not an unfamiliar situation for the team. But in order to get there, both sides of the ball need to do their part.
Entering the 2018 season, the Steelers had averaged 114 points scored per season in the fourth quarter since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach. In 2018 they only scored 91, which was 23 less than their average. As for the defense, they surrendered 91 points per season on average, but gave up 123 which was 32 more than usual. So the entire team needs to do their part in order to improve this statistic.
I realize fourth quarter point differential is not a perfect statistical measure. Sometimes an opponent begins the quarter already in scoring position which can skew the results slightly. Even though it might have it’s flaws, there is no doubt teams emphasize finishing games strong and gutting out victories. If the Steelers focus on dominating the end of the game on both sides of the ball, both the victories and point differentials will fall in line.