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Reducing the number of “three and out” drives should be a main point of emphasis for the 2020 Steelers

The number of drives in which the Steelers did not net a first down and ended with a punt saw a significant increase in 2019

NFL: DEC 15 Bills at Steelers Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers focusing on a point of emphasis for a season, it generally results in an improvement. To be clear, points of emphasis are not the obvious items such as wins and losses or things of that sort. When the Steelers specifically focus on one item of their game they need to improve, they generally make strides in the category the following season.

Looking at past examples, the Steelers specifically focused on increasing their number takeaways in the 2019 season as they saw their numbers more than double. The previous season, the Steelers emphasized better results on offense in the red zone and they finished first in the league. Whether it would be reducing missed tackles or having a dependable kicking game, when the Steelers set a specific point of emphasis on an aspect of their team, they generally see better results.

So what will the points of emphasis be for the 2020 season? There can be a lot of speculation, but one area in which the Steelers need to improve is the length of their drives. While the Steelers could simply focus on their time of possession (they averaged 2:33 on the season), the most likely way to help change this would be reducing the number of three and out drives their offense produces.

In 2019, the Steelers had 41 drives which consisted of only three plays followed by a punt. This number does not include drives where the Steelers achieved a first down of any type. So if the defense had a penalty called on the first play of the drive which gave the Steelers a first down before they officially ran a play, this drive would not qualify. Additionally, if the Steelers turned the ball over or went for it on fourth down, these drives are in a different category. The 41 drives are strictly drives where the Steelers did not achieve a first down and punted the football.

In looking how this number compared to years past, the Steelers had 28 drives which consisted of three plays and a punt in 2018. So in one year, the Steelers increased their number of three and outs by 46%. In 2017, the Steelers only had 24 drives. The last time the Steelers had 40 or more drives which consisted of a three and out was the 2013 season where they had 46. It was the second of back-to-back years in which the Steelers had more than 40 such drives as they also had 44 in 2012. As one could assume, the Steelers did not make the playoffs in either of these years. Going back to the year 2000, the only season the Steelers had 40 or more three and out drives and they made the playoffs was in 2008 when they went on to achieve their most recent Super Bowl victory.

The easy answer to fix this problem would be the return of Ben Roethlisberger, especially if he plays anywhere close to his 2018 form. But assuming Roethlisberger will cure all the problems with the Steelers offense would be very shortsighted. Even though Ben should give an immediate return, it’s still should be an issue which the Steelers actively look to improve.

While the Steelers could get even more specific in addressing their three and out issue, the exact goal could be a number of things. The Steelers could emphasize staying ahead of the chains and gaining significant yards on first down. Improving their third down conversion would be another area to fix. The Steelers could also work on reducing the number of third downs they face by moving the sticks on first or second down. So rather than bring up all of these issues individually, focusing on reducing three and out drives would be a fair goal.

There are a number of things the Steelers could emphasize for the 2020 season. Perhaps they will address the number of failed drives directly or in another way. Regardless, the offense will need to make multiple strides in 2020 in order for the Steelers to get back to the post season.