One of the biggest concerns Steelers fans have going in every season is the Steelers inevitably seem to take a few games to really get warmed up, particularly on offense. This was the case in 2019 as the Steelers went 1-3 in the opening quarter of the season. But more importantly then starting the season on a positive note, the Steelers were notoriously terrible it’s starting games offensively in 2019.
I addressed the issue partway through the season last year as to how the Steelers needed to get going on there opening drive. Unfortunately, the season didn’t finish up any better than it started. The most frustrating thing in dealing with slow starts is these drives are the ones which are usually scripted for each game. Although execution was definitely a problem as many were able to see, it appears the game plan may not have been much better.
Here are some of the numbers for the Steelers opening drive of each game in 2019. Yes, only two of these drives (both of which ended in punts) were supplied with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
This is not the number of times the Steelers scored on their opening drives. Unfortunately, it is the total number of points scored on their opening drive in the 2019 season which was obviously last in the league. A pair of field goals, each against NFC West opponents on the road, were the only scores on the opening drive the Steelers had in 2019. Yes, it’s bad the Steelers never scored in their opening drives at home. What was worse is eight teams in the NFL scored as many touchdowns on their opening drives as the Steelers had points. The Steelers were the only team who did not find the endzone on their opening possession of the 2019 season.
One of the biggest reasons the Steelers did not score points in their opening drive was because they did not move the football. They averaged merely 11.4 yards per opening drive in 2019. If it wasn’t for the 66-yard field-goal drive in Arizona, the Steelers would have only averaged 7.73 yards/drive. To put this number in perspective, it was 8 yards less than the 31st raked Washington Redskins and 46 yards worse than the league-leading Baltimore Ravens.
Another factor to why there were not many points scored or yards gained is the six drives the Steelers had turnovers to open games in 2019. With four interceptions and two fumbles, the only team who had more turnovers on their opening drive was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But even having almost half their drives on the season to start the game end with the turnover, the Buccaneers still at least manage three touchdowns.
Basically rounding out all the other stats, the Steelers only held on the ball for an average of 2;30 seconds per opening drive in 2019 which ranked them next to last in the NFL. The Buccaneers, who had more turnovers than the Steelers, were last in the NFL with 2:15 in possession. The Steelers only had three opening drives in 2019 which lasted four minutes or longer. Their opening offensive possession of the season lasted 4:00 against the New England Patriots and ended in a punt. The first drive against the New York Jets in Week 16 lasted 4:42 before Devlin Hodges threw an interception. The Steelers most productive drive to open the game in the 2019 season was their Week 14 matchup in Arizona which was 13 plays for 66 yards in 8:00 and ended with a field goal.
What may be the most disheartening is the Steelers had 11 opening drives in 2019 where they did not have a first down. One of those drives was when they scored a field goal against San Francisco when their defense set them up in field-goal range. Of those 11 drives, seven of them gained only 1 yard or less with for drives ending in negative yardage.
I’m sorry to dig up such deep wounds for the 2019 season, but the Steelers need to learn from their slow starts from 2019 if they plan on making a splash in 2020. With one of the most elite defenses in the league, if the Steelers can get a quality start to the game and possibly even play with the lead, the defense will have even more opportunity to make splash plays in the upcoming season. With talk of Ben Roethlisberger‘s return, the back-up quarterback position, lack of depth at several key positions, and an aging offensive line, getting off to a good start in each game may be the most important point of emphasis for the Steelers going into the 2020 season.