The red zone woes of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been apparent all season long, and Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills featured more struggles from Pittsburgh’s offense when they entered their opponent’s twenty yard-line.
The Steelers only converted two of their five red zone trips into touchdowns last weekend, and their inability to capitalize on those chances prevented them from burying Buffalo much earlier than they should have.
While one of the red zone touchdowns happened on a beautiful play-action pass from Ben Roethlsiberger to Jerricho Cotchery, the team’s second touchdown was essentially handed to them on a bone-headed play by Marcell Dareus. After Buffalo’s defense had stalled another one of the Steelers’ drives into the red zone, Dareus’ offsides penalty gave Pittsburgh’s offense a new set of downs and Le’Veon Bell’s four-yard touchdown run made the score 17-3 instead of 13-3.
With Buffalo’s defense cheating up to stop the run which had been grinding out tough yardage on the ground all afternoon, the Steelers could have been primed to pick them apart near the goal line with some play-action like they did on Cotchery’s touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Of course, Todd Haley went away from that strategy and instead relied more on running the ball directly into nine and ten-man fronts, screen-passes to wide receivers, and fades to shorter pass-catchers on the outside.
Haley could have designed some plays to Heath Miller, who would have been matched up against a safety or a linebacker already biting hard on a play-action fake, in those situations or even utilized one of his backs (Le’Veon Bell or Felix Jones) in the passing game. Then again, playing the “what if?” game does nobody any good yet it is still perplexing as to the type of red zone strategy that was employed by Pittsburgh’s offense on Sunday.
To be fair to Haley too, the execution by his players near the goal line was not particularly terrific either. The offensive line struggled with pass-protection all day, and they allowed a crucial third-down sack of Roethlisberger early in the second quarter. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh’s red zone offense will have a difficult task on their hands this weekend when they face the Detroit Lions.
Detroit’s defense has tightened on a consistent basis this year when opponents have crossed into the Lions’ twenty yard-line. Overall, Detroit’s red zone defense ranks fifth in the league (41.67%) in “red zone touchdown percentage allowed,” and the unit stood firm against the Chicago Bears last weekend as they only allowed the Bears to score one touchdown on their four trips into the red zone.
As one of the poorest red zone offenses in the league, Pittsburgh must capitalize on any and every red zone chance that they receive against Detroit’s stingy defense. The Lions rank seventh in the league in points scored per game (26.4), so it will be of the utmost importance that the Steelers’ offense can execute better near Detroit’s goal line.
Pittsburgh has failed to produce touchdowns (44.83%, 28th) on a consistent basis in the red zone this fall, and winning this matchup against the Lions will be key for the Steelers to win so they can keep pace with their opponent’s high-powered offense on Sunday afternoon.
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