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Art Rooney II hits nail on the head when pinpointing Steelers’ on-field area of improvement

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Every year the man who signs the checks lays out a plan to improve the team, and he hit this year’s plan out of the ball park.

NFL: Preseason-Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over as the Pittsburgh Steelers President, Art Rooney II has done a couple things at the end of each season. First, he holds a question-and-answer style meeting with local media, and he always lays out what he thinks the team can improve on during the upcoming season.

In the past he has made suggestions like having to pressure the opposing quarterback better, protecting Ben Roethlisberger and even running the football more.

All were spot on, but I can’t think of a better area for improvement heading into 2018 than what Rooney suggested at this year’s media session.

The Red Zone.

The Steelers’ offense ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in red-zone efficiency, finishing No. 22 in touchdowns scored inside the 20.

For an offense which has Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and a stellar offensive line, those numbers are flat-out pathetic.

Want to know the difference between success and failure? Look at the red-zone. The top three teams in red-zone touchdown conversions in 2017? The Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Yeah, those three teams were either in the Super Bowl, or playing on Conference Championship Sunday.

The Steelers had no problem moving the football, but in what had become a mark of the Todd Haley era, the offense stalled when it mattered most. Chris Boswell, although tremendous, was used too often to boot field goals rather than extra points.

Rooney sees this, but also wants to keep things in perspective.

“I think over the course of the season, we felt like we could be better on third-down conversions and red-zone conversions,” Rooney said during an interview with reporters. “But, overall, I think it’s one of those years where we’ve got to look at everything and try to figure out where we can get better.

“I don’t think there’s anything that kind of really sticks out in the way maybe that decision was made.”

The “change” Rooney spoke of was not retaining Todd Haley, but promoting Randy Fichtner to the team’s offensive coordinator job.

“I think that there are times when it makes sense to make a change, and so that decision was made” Rooney said. “I thought Todd brought a lot to us, and we had some success while he was here. Hopefully, we can build on some of that going forward. Our new coordinator is very familiar to everybody, so it’s not like we’re making major changes, and I think under the circumstances, that’s appropriate.”

These statistics, courtesy of Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, are telling:

The Steelers’ scoring percentage inside the 20 dropped from 59.18 in 2016 to 50.79 last season. This despite the Steelers having 3.9 red-zone scoring attempts per game, which ranked third in the NFL behind New England and the Los Angeles Rams.

The Steelers also regressed in goal-to-go situations, dropping from No. 2 (85 percent) in 2016 to No. 11 (75.8 percent) in 2017.

In Haley’s six seasons, the Steelers never finished higher than No. 10 in red-zone percentage. He also clashed with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and recently had his third-down play-calling questioned by running back Le’Veon Bell.

The Steelers will turn to Randy Fichtner (and by proxy, Roethlisberger) to get the Steelers’ offense straightened out, especially in the red-zone. If they can improve in this area, it might be a key factor in whether we see the team playing for Super Bowl No. 7, or watch someone else hoist the Lombardi trophy yet again.