It seems like forever since the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers played a meaningful football game, but that is exactly what is going to take place at Heinz Field Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars come to town for the Divisional Round game in the AFC Playoffs.
With the Steelers just getting their postseason underway, I couldn’t help but go back and take a look at the regular season from what is the most important statistic in football — points scored.
This goes for both offense and defense.
If you have an offense who can put up points, and a defense who can keep opponents off the scoreboard, you have yourself one tremendous football team.
When looking at the Steelers’ point totals for the season, it certainly looked like the tale of two halves. The first half of the season, and the second half of the season.
Let’s take a look at the offense first:
- In the first half of the season, the first eight games, the Steelers averaged 20.8 points-per-game, and never hit the 30-point plateau even once.
- In the second half of the season, the final eight games, the Steelers offense averaged almost 10 more points-per-game, topping off at 29.8 points-per-game. In the back half of the regular season the Steelers hit 30-points in all but 4 games.
What was the cause for the drastic change? Personally, it just seemed to take the offense longer than usual to really find what worked for everyone on the team. JuJu Smith-Schuster was an unknown commodity early, Martavis Bryant was visibly rusty, and the team struggled with whether they wanted to be a grind-it-out team, or a pass-happy team. What they settled on was a happy median between the two, where Ben Roethlisberger has found his groove finding the targets the defense is giving him, and it is clearly working.
Now to the defensive side of the football:
- In the first half of the season, the first eight games, the Steelers defense allowed just 16.3 points-per-game. In that time, they surrendered more than 20-points just twice.
- In the second half of the season, the final eight games, the defense allowed 6 more points-per-game, with an average of 22.1. In the back half of the schedule, they allowed 20-points, or more, in all but 3 games.
Clearly the defense has struggled in the second-half of the season, and there are some logical reasons for these numbers. The injury to Joe Haden didn’t help the secondary, and the loss of Ryan Shazier cannot be downplayed when it comes to the significance of the injury on the entire defense.
The defense has ultimately been done in by big plays in the second half of the season. This has been well-documented since the bye week, but if this unit can simply prevent the big plays from happening on a regular basis, these numbers will improve dramatically, and make the Steelers a very difficult team to beat.
A tale of two halves indeed. The Steelers offense seems to be surging at the right time, while the defense is certainly in limbo entering the playoffs. The team has had plenty of time to get ready for the playoffs, earning themselves a first round bye, but if they cannot make some changes on defense, and continue their success on offense, it could be a short postseason for the black-and-gold.