I have been a fan of how Pittsburgh’s new Offense has controlled the clock, dinked and dunked effectively (for better or worse), and kept Big Ben relatively healthy and upright so far this season. Yet as awesome as the Big Ben & Co. have performed in these areas over the last three months, the unit as a whole has still not been “stellar” in terms of their Red Zone productivity and scoring output. The Steelers’ Offense must begin to get in the habit of finishing drives and making the most of their scoring opportunities, and this weekend would be a great time to start the aforementioned trend.
Pittsburgh’s Red Zone Offense
As I alluded to before, if there is one issue I have had with the Steelers’ Offense this season, it has been Red Zone related. It seems that each and every time the Steelers have found themselves in the Red Zone this year, things like penalties, drops, missed blocks, turnovers, and any other assorted miscues have prevented Big Ben & Co. from truly “cashing in” with Touchdowns. In fact, on the season, Pittsburgh’s Offense has only scored Touchdowns on 52.38% (17th in the League overall) of their scoring trips into the Red Zone this season. Essentially, for every two successful scoring trips Pittsburgh has taken into their oppositions’ Red Zones’ they come away with 10 points.
For a team like the Steelers that ranks 2nd in Time of Possession per Game (34:49), their Red Zone miscues and struggles are a big reason why they have only averaged 23.3 points per game this season (17th overall). Pittsburgh has possessed the ball for a much longer time than their opponents this season, and ate clock and put together awesome drives because of it (37:00+TOP last weekend). But too many times these drives have turned into 3′s instead of 7′s on the scoreboard, and the Steelers have allowed all of their opponents to “hang around” and stay within striking distance because of it. Nothing against the suddenly solid Shaun Suisham, but I would rather see him on the field for Kickoffs and Extra Points as opposed to Field Goal attempts. Although Suisham has done a terrific job so far this season (14 of 15), and his only miss was due to the genius strategy of Mike Tomlin in Nashville, more Extra Point attempts means more Touchdowns being racked up by the Offense.
While the Steelers must continue to improve their Touchdown Percentage in the Red Zone, this week it is especially important that they bring their “A Games” and take advantage of every opportunity they are able to cross the Redskins’ 20 Yard Line.
Washington’s Offense & Why They Are Dangerous
So what exactly makes the Redskins such a dangerous macthup for the Steelers and will put the pressure on Big Ben & Co. to execute better in the Red Zone and in all areas tomorrow? Well, it all starts with their running game.
As I alluded on on Wednesday, Washington will likely (and should) lean on their running game and try to exploit the Steelers’ aging and inexperienced Defense. This type of strategy, if executed properly, will do two extremely important things for the Redskins: First, Washington will be able to take advantage of their extremely efficient and well-executed Zone-based running scheme, and utilize the underrated but talented Alfred Morris (658 Yards) and Robert Griffin III (468 Yards) to control the clock to wear Pittsburgh’s Defense down progressively. Second, and most importantly, controlling the clock with a run-based attack keeps Big Ben and the Steelers’ Offense on the sidelines, and not in a position to hurt the Redskins vulnerable Pass Defense (32nd in Yards per Game Against overall). If Washington is able to not only win the Time of Possession battle, but run the ball effectively to do so, Big Ben and the Offense will not be treated to the same kinds of extra/extended possessions they have had the luxury of this season.
Washington will go to the run, and go to it often, because as I alluded to earlier in the Week, the Redskins have one of the League’s best ground attacks, and rank 1st or Tied for 1st in Rushing Yards per Game (177.7), Total Rushing Yards (1,244), and Rushing Touchdowns (11). The running game is the staple of their Offense, and must be contained at all costs tomorrow afternoon. Quarterback Robert Griffin III might not have the most statistically gaudy passing stats (133 for 189, 1,604 Yards, 7 TD’s, 3 INT’s), but his completion percentage (70.4%) is fantastic and besides his overall accuracy as a passer, it has much to do with the play-action passing game and the matchups that threat of the run has created for their Offense. In fact, the Redskins rank 1st overall in Total Yards per Attempt (8.0) through the first six games.
Overall, the Redskins have shown a knack for putting points up on the scoreboard because of their solid play on the Offensive side of the ball. Washington’s Offense has average 28.7 Points per Game (5th overall), but most importantly, the unit has been able to convert their Red Zone chances into Touchdowns at a higher rate than the Steelers have this year at 59.09% (8th overall). With these solid and efficient numbers, plus the fact that the Redskins are a dangerous running team and can control the clock because of their ground attack, the pressure will be on Pittsburgh’s Offense to match them if their Defense cannot contain the opposition.
Like it or not readers, but “Productivity in the Red Zone” will be the name of the game this weekend for the Steelers’ Offense. The pressure will be on Big Ben & Co. to not only put points up on the board, but finish drives with 7 points as opposed to 3 points to extend or gain important leads. I am not at all worried about the Steelers ability to move the ball, especially through the air, as Washington’s Defense has been an absolute sieve against the pass this season. Washington’s Defense ranks 32nd in Pass Attempts Against (42.6), 32nd in Completion Percentage Against (63.42%), 32nd in Passing 1st Downs per Game (16.3), 31st in Pass TD’s per Game (2.3), and all signs point to Big Ben having an absolute “field day” tomorrow afternoon.
But as much faith as I have in the Steelers’ Offense, their Defense must find a way to stop Washington’s potent Offensive attack. The Steelers’ Defense got a bit lucky last weekend as they faced a Quarterback with a “Pop-Gun” arm without any secondary weapons behind his All-Pro Wide Receiver, and had a +14:00 Time of Possession advantage. Pittsburgh’s Defense will have a whole new set of challenges tomorrow as they will face the dual threat “RGIII,” must find a way to shut down the Redskins’ effective running game, and try to shut down an Offense currently averaging close to 30 points per game.
If the Defense cannot hold and has issues getting off the field, “7′s” will be needed by Big Ben and his weapons to stay in the game. And even if the Defense holds in the early going, “7′s” are just as important because early leads will force the Redskins to begin to turn away from their ground game and look more towards a passing game without the luxury of play-action.
There has been quite a bit to like about the Steelers’ new Offense, but some more scoring and Red Zone effectiveness with Touchdowns can only make the unit as a whole more lethal. My hope is that tomorrow will finally be the day that possessions which used to be “3′s” begin to turn into “7′s,” especially with a high-scoring team like the Redskins coming to town. I am sure Pittsburgh’s Offense will improve in said area, but if this team wants to make a postseason push, they had better improve sooner as opposed to later.