The Steelers offensive fix has created a new problem
During the 2022 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense got off to a very slow start but finished slightly more respectable the second half of the season. One of the knocks on the Steelers offense was the lack of “splash plays,” especially of the scoring variety. If the Steelers could add splash plays to their offense for 2023, it would make a significant difference.
Now that we are five games into the 2023 season, the Steelers offense has apparently added splash plays to their repertoire. But this idea is not entirely true. It’s not that the Steelers haven’t had splash plays as part of their offense this season, it’s the fact that they have not added them on top of the style of offense they had last season.
To give some numbers to make the point, the Pittsburgh Steelers had 28 touchdowns in 2022 but only two of those touchdowns came from outside of the red zone. These two touchdowns were from a distance of 24 yards and 31 yards. When it came to plays of 40 yards or more gained, the Steelers only had three such plays all last season, none of which were touchdowns.
Through the first five games of 2023, the Steelers have already tied their total of plays of 40 yard or more gains from last season. Additionally, all three plays went for touchdowns. The Steelers have scored touchdowns 41 yards, 71 yards, and 72 yards this season. The splash play element is definitely part of the Steelers offense.
The problem is, the splash plays have been more of a replacement of the Steelers offense which finished 7–2 last season rather than an addition to things.
I laid out some of these numbers on my most recent Steelers Stat Geek podcast. I looked at every offensive drive last year as well as so far this season excluding ones that consisted only of kneel downs. Last year, the Steelers scored touchdowns on 16.6% of their offensive drives which was significantly lower than the NFL average of 21.9% of drives. I even looked at the Steelers first five games from last season to compare the first five games of this season as a more fair correlation. Even with the Steelers 1–4 start last year, they scored touchdowns on 10.7% of their offensive drives during the first five games. But this year, the Steelers have scored touchdowns on only 5 of 55 drives equating to only 9.1% of their drives.
So if the Steelers arent scoring touchdowns, are they at least getting field goals? Last season the Steelers had drives which ended in a successful field goal which were 20.1% of their offensive drives, higher than the drives across the entire NFL which was 16.0%. Through the first five games of last season, the Steelers had 16.1% of drives end with a made field goal while this year the Steelers have had 18.2% of their drives end with three points.
While it looks like the Steelers are doing better getting into field goal range the season, they actually aren’t compared to the first five games last year. The biggest difference is that the Steelers are making their field goal this year as Chris Boswell has been perfect on the season. Last year, the Steelers had four missed field goals through the first five games, meaning they attempted a field goal on 23.2% of the drives.
The number that really shows things is how many drive the Steelers have had which end in punts. Because the Steelers have been better at not turning the ball over offensively this year (only 9.1% of their drives compared to 12.5% through five games last year), one would think that they would have more drives which ended in scoring. Unfortunately, they just had more drives end in a punt.
Last year the Steelers had 40.8% of their drives end with a punt which is higher than the league-wide percentage of 38.7%. And while the Steelers slow start last year had them punting on 44.6% of their drives, this year the Steelers have had a drive end with a punt on 54.5% of their offensive drives, the highest in the NFL through the first five weeks.
The bottom line is, the Steelers simply aren’t sustaining drives. They are only averaging 268.2 yards per game which is 30th in the NFL. The Steelers are only averaging 5.4 plays per drive and 25.1 yd. per drive. The Steelers are only averaging one touchdown drive and two field goal drives per game. These are numbers indicative of a half of football rather than a full game.
So while the numbers are encouraging while looking at Steelers getting more splash plays on offense, it has not produced more offense for them in the long run. The methodical drives that the Steelers had last season, particularly in the second half of the year, are almost nonexistent.
Splash plays are neither the problem nor the solution for the Steelers offense. What will ultimately bring the Steelers more success offensively is having splash plays as well as sustained offense throughout the game.
For more of a breakdown on these numbers, check out the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast below:
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