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6 statistical categories the Steelers need to improve for 2021

The majority of the improvements need to come on one side of the ball.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I was tasked with a question of determining what statistical categories the Steelers need to improve the most for the 2020 season. While digging through the statistics, there were some that I found which were obvious and others were not as much. Without completely piling on every aspect of the running game, here are six various statistical categories where the Steelers could improve for greater success this upcoming season.

Yards per carry

Statistic: 3.62 ypc
NFL Rank: 32nd

I could have chosen any variety of rushing statistics to show how the Steelers were at the bottom of the league, but the one that brings it out the most is the number of yards per rushing attempt. It doesn’t matter if the Steelers run the ball 10 times or 40 times in the game if they are not gaining decent yardage on the majority of the plays. Once this number improves, so many other statistical categories will see a bump as a result.

Net yards per pass attempt

Statistic: 5.9746 ypa
NFL Rank: 24th

In basic terms, this statistics is how many yards the Steelers gain per play when a ball is thrown. It includes yards after the catch and incompletions. With the Steelers throwing a lot of short passing routes in 2020, they did not average 6 yards every time the ball was put in the air. While this was an improvement from the previous season when the Steelers were at 5.5000 net yards per pass attempt which was 28th in the NFL, it still needs to continue to rise. Or does it? Before 2019, the last time the Steelers did not have at least 6 net yards per pass attempt was 5.9371 yards in 2008. The Steelers did have a slightly better running attack during their Super Bowl season of 2008, but once again were led by their defense.

Goal to go percentage

Statistic: 70.97%
NFL Rank: 24th

When the Steelers got in a goal to go situation on offense, too many times they settled for field goals or scored no points rather than finding the end zone. The league median for 2020 was at 75% (meaning the teams ranked 16th and 17th both were at this amount), with 80% landing teams in the top 10. If the Steelers could improve their running game, this would be another statistic which would likely benefit.

Total first downs

Statistic: 322 first downs
NFL Rank: 26th

While it’s not very surprising the Steelers were at the very bottom of the league (31st) in rushing first downs, they were only middle of the road when it came to passing first downs (T-16th). In combining the two, the Steelers ended up towards the bottom of the league in total first downs on the season. Even though the Steelers managed 12 wins, it goes to show how many times the offense failed to sustain drives in 2020.

First quarter scoring

Statistic: 62 points
NFL Rank: T-24th

Speaking of failing to sustain drives, where the Steelers struggled the most was starting off their games in 2020. Only scoring 62 points on the season in the first quarter, the Steelers averaged 3.875 points per game in the opening quarter. Whether it be a poor game plan, predictable scripted plays, or simply just players taking too long to ease into the game, the Steelers need to hit the ground running on offense much faster in 2021.

Punt return average against

Statistic: 10.0 ypr
NFL Rank: 24th

It took a lot to find a statistic where the Steelers need to improve that wasn’t on the offensive side of the ball. With every major statistical category on defense having the Steelers in the top half of the league, and most often in the top 10, the only stat which could be contributed not to the offense would be average return yards per punt. Giving up 10 yards on punt returns does not do the defense any favors in the field position category. With newly drafted punter Pressley Harvin having one negative of his draft profile being many of his punts are returnable, this is a statistic where the Steelers do not want to fall any farther down the rankings.

So there are six statistics the Steelers could actively improve for the 2021 season. It’s not as if the Steelers need to focus on the numbers as much as it is improving their play in regards to these categories as the numbers just help to reflect on the various shortcomings for the season. Should the Steelers improve their rushing attack and start faster in games in 2021, improved numbers will just be the byproduct of better overall play on the field.