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Steelers first-down issues lead to offensive struggles

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has stumbled the last six quarters of play, and their work on first down could be the reason why.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

If you took anything away from the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, it was the Ravens putting on an offensive clinic on first down. The Ravens were continually getting five or more yards on first down, which sets up very favorable down-and-distance for second and third downs.

Although the Ravens were 5-12 in third-down conversions in the game, the team didn't need third down most of the time as they collected 25 first downs throughout the entire game.

The Steelers' offense did the polar opposite of the Ravens on Thursday night. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the Steelers were continually "behind the chains" in terms of favorable down-and-distance after the first snap of the series, which led to only 17 first downs in the entire game.

In the first half vs. the Ravens, the Steelers gained the following yardage on first-down plays from scrimmage: 1, 3, 9, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, 21, 19, 1, 15, -8. Do the math and that's 65 yards, or a five-yard average on first down, and that average is highly inflated by the 21- and 19-yard plays. Take away those plays and you have a dismal average of 2.27 yards per play.

Talk about putting yourself in bad down-and-distance spots after the first play of the series.

In the second half, the first-down offense improved but not by any significant margin. The offense had first-down plays from scrimmage of: 10, 16, 5 ,2 ,5, 9, 0, 0, 0, 27, 0. That average comes out to 6.7 yards on first down.

The Steelers offense has moved the ball in both games in this young 2014 season, but penalties and turnovers have marred most of those performances. If the Steelers offense is looking to make any alterations before facing the Carolina Panthers next week, they certainly could start with high-percentage plays on first down to put them in favorable down-and distance situations to make first downs, sustain drives and keep the Steelers' defense rested on the sideline.