The Pittsburgh Steelers had a prolific offense last season, but it certainly wasn't prolific in scoring in the red-zone. In 2014, the Steelers were 28th in the NFL in goal-line offense. Goal-line offense is considered when the team is inside their opponent's 10-yard line. The team had 74 offensive snaps inside their opponent's 10-yard line, and scored touchdowns only 20 times for a 27-percent statistic. Not pretty.
No wonder Mike Tomlin and company are focusing on the team's red-zone offense as early as the first week of their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) last week. Per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers opened up every practice with a goal-line drill where the offense ran 7 plays from inside the 10-yard line. Don't think the emphasis didn't go unnoticed by the players.
"Inside the 5, that's where you separate yourself," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "A lot of times, when you're down there in a tight red zone, four points is a lot. You get seven instead of three, that's a lot in the NFL. We realize that.
"Early in the year, we weren't good in the red zone. We got better near the end of the year. We can't start off slow this year. That drill is something we started near the end of the season. I'm glad we're doing it in OTAs this year."
If the team is putting such an emphasis on the red zone in OTAs, it is almost a certainty to assume the team will carry that focus into training camp in hopes of generating a more efficient red-zone offense in 2015. In 2014, there were a myriad of situations which saw the Steelers travel the length of the field, only to stall in the red-zone and have to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal.
"You have to finish in those situations," left guard Ramon Foster said. "Everyone can defend the pass. This is a passing league. If you're able to run, it opens up a lot of things down there."
"I think goal-line offense is going to be important this year," Foster said. "We can't be the same. Teams will look at us and look at the passing yards we had. They'll look at our third-down efficiency, and we'll have to come with a different approach. The run has to be better. We were 16th. We have to shoot for higher than that. We have to be better than 16th to make our offense go. Ben is a great quarterback, but we have to make it easier on him, too. To be able to run on any down is going to be key. We have to make sure Le'Veon and our stable of backs get theirs. It makes our offense more of a threat. It can't all be on Ben's arm."
Mixing up the run and the pass in the red-zone will certainly go a long way, but with an offense as lethal and dynamic as the one the Steelers deploy on a weekly basis, having a blemish as obvious as their current red zone efficiency certainly makes one scratch their heads. For 2015, if the Steelers could become a more efficient red zone offense it will pay huge dividends not only for the offense, but taking pressure off an inexperienced defensive unit.
As Foster said, you have to finish, and that is something the Steelers did not do well enough in 2014.