Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

If the Steelers offense can’t come from behind, they must be able to get a lead

An interesting bit of information about the Steelers offense and offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been going around since Sunday’s game. During the broadcast, CBS announcer Spero Dedes stated that in a conversation with Matt Canada the day before, he said the Steelers offense is not quite built to come back from big leads.

(NOTE: Even though Matt Canada came out to say that his words were completely misconstrued, the point is actually quite valid. If Matt Canada acknowledges that his offense is built on running the ball and play action, and he admits that when the Steelers are behind by a lot that they can’t do those things anymore, that is, in essence, admitting that his offense is not built to come from behind.)

While this certainly can be the case for an NFL team, it’s typically not one that can be successful in today’s NFL or one that is a championship-caliber team. But besides the problems that the statement brings, it also implies that the offense must be successful in another way…

If the Steelers aren’t built to come from behind from a big lead, then they need to either build a lead themselves or keep the game from getting out of hand.

When it comes to keeping the game from getting out of hand, this is a task that can be split between the offense and the defense. The defense has to keep the other team from scoring as much as possible, and/or the offense must be able to score along with their opponent.

But when it comes to the Steelers building a lead themselves, that’s all the offense.

Expecting the Steelers the score a defensive touchdown on the first play of the game in order to do what the offense needs to do is not a recipe for success. For this reason, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to have their offense rolling early in a game in order to build a lead or match scores with their opponent. Otherwise, this responsibility would lie completely on the defense.

While relying on defense is something that is nice for an offense to be able to do, it simply should not be a requirement for the offense to have any type of success. The offense needs to be able to stand alone with its own success and failures.

So if the Steelers offense knows it cannot play from behind to overcome a large lead, are they doing their part to keep this from happening?

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I addressed this exact question. In order for the Steelers to not be behind and potentially play with the lead, they have to score points early. Even taking the points issue out of it, the Steelers need to at least have some successful offense early in the game. This simply hasn’t happened during the 2023 season.

When looking at the first offensive drive of the game through the first four weeks of 2023, the Steelers are at the very bottom of the NFL. They have averaged only 4.3 plays per drive which is 29th only ahead of the Detroit Lions (4.0), the New York Jets (3.5), and the Atlanta Falcons (3.0). Additionally, the Steelers are one of five teams who have not scored any points on their opening drive. These teams include the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers are also one of two teams who have multiple turnovers on their opening drives through four games as both the Steelers and Vikings have turned it over half the time.

To pile on with the inadequacy of the Steelers first drives through four games, they are last in the NFL with yards per drive with 6.0 as they are only one of three teams who have less than 15 yards per drive where they are once again and the company of the New York Jets (8.0) and Atlanta Falcons (6.8).

In other words, the Steelers are one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to producing on their opening drive.

So even if the Steelers start slow with the first drive, do they bounce back and still produce results during the first quarter? Once again, the offense is at the bottom of the league when it comes to results in the first quarter.

Through four games, the Steelers are 29th in the NFL in offensive plays ran during the first quarter with 61 only ahead of the Atlanta Falcons (59), the Denver Broncos (59), and the Chicago Bears (56). The Steelers are also tied for 29th with average yards gained per play in the first quarter with 2.3 where they are tied with the Green Bay Packers. The only teams who are worse are the Tennessee Titans (2.0 yards) and the New York Jets (1.7 yards).

Where the Steelers come in well below the rest of the NFL is their number first downs gained during the first quarter. through four games, the Steelers only have four first downs, one of which was a touchdown. The next fewest first downs of any NFL team is the New York Jets with seven followed by the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers with 10. So even the team who is ranked 30th in the NFL has 2.5 times more first downs in the first quarter than the Steelers.

Even though the Steelers have just five turnovers on the season, four of them have happened in the first quarter with three interceptions and one lost fumble. This means the Steelers have as many turnovers as first downs in the first quarter of games so far in 2023.

Also, this ineptitude of the offense during the first quarter has taken a toll on the Steelers defense. While some of this is self-inflicted, the Steelers defense has been on the field 98 plays in the first quarter through 4 games of the 2023 season. Ranking 32nd in the NFL, the next most plays by any defense is 83 by the Green Bay Packers. So not only has the Steelers defense been on the field for more players than any other team, it has been by a wide margin.

With these things being the case, the Steelers offense appears to be a team whose bigger problem than having to come from behind to overcome a large deficit is the fact that they can’t score early and either get a lead or match scores with their opponent. When a team cannot do this, and also admits they can’t play from behind, there is really nothing this offense can do to be successful until they start hitting the ground running from the very first snap outside of putting the burden of perfection on the defense.

To hear more about these numbers and other topics, check out the latest episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast below:


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