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Steelers' offense isn't producing

by MIRZA ZUKIC moz@indianagazette.net on September 18, 2013 11:00 AM

In order to be more productive and effective, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has to be on the field more.

That won’t solve all the problems on offense, but it’s a good place to start coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly press conference Tuesday, merely 12 hours after the Steelers dropped to 0-2 for the first time since 2002 and the first time in Tomlin’s seven-year tenure.

“Obviously, when you’re snapping the ball in the mid-50’s the way we have over the last several games, you’re not converting third downs, you’re not getting enough snaps in general,” Tomlin said.

“When you’re not converting third downs and your snaps are in the mid-50’s, and included in that mid-50’s are no-huddle or two-minute-like scenarios, you’re talking about 30-35 snapped opportunities in the game. We’re just not getting enough snaps for anyone at this point to show what they’re capable of doing.”

For the second straight week to start the season, the Steelers were badly outplayed in Monday’s 20-10 loss at Cincinnati, and they couldn’t keep the defense off the field.

Cincinnati ran 79 offensive plays in Monday’s game while holding the ball for more than 35 minutes.

The Steelers, conversely, ran 55 offensive plays and didn’t produce a first down on seven of their 12 possessions, including on one of their two scoring drives.

Similarly, Pittsburgh ran 53 plays in the season opener against Tennessee.

And it all starts with the Steelers’ inability to run the ball.

They have gained just 76 rushing yards through two games — 16 players in the NFL have more individually — which makes it tough to produce long, time-consuming drives.

Another one of the Steelers’ more glaring weaknesses thus far has been an inability to convert third downs at a higher clip.

After going 4 of 13 (31 percent) on third downs against Tennessee in the opener, the Steelers were even worse in that category against Cincinnati, finishing just 3 of 12 (25 percent) in third-down efficiency.

And that can “easily” be attributed to the Steelers’ ineffectiveness on first and second down, Tomlin said.

“Easily that’s scenario,” he said. “If you just took a snap shot of the third-down opportunities in the game — third-and-8, third-and-9, third-and-10 — globally speaking, you’re not going to convert a lot of those or not going to convert those at the type of rate that’s going to allow you to be successful.”

The Steelers could learn a thing or two from their next opponent, the Chicago Bears (2-0).

Chicago ranks in the top five in the NFL in third-down efficiency, having converted 50 percent of its third downs (13 of 26). One reason for that is the Bears’ ability to keep their third downs short and manageable.

“When I’m talking about the Chicago Bears converting 50 percent of their third downs, it’s because largely they’re in manageable situations, third-and-medium if you will,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got to get in more of those situations and largely because of what we do on first and second down. Obviously, we can’t be penalized.”

At the moment, the Steelers are struggling to convert even the third-and-mediums largely due to an unproductive running game.

Facing a third-and-2 at a critical juncture in Monday’s game, Pittsburgh mustered just a 1-yard run from Isaac Redman and had to punt the ball away after a three-and-out.

That’s a problem for an offense still trying to figure out who its playmakers will be.

“So, when I speak about Jonathan not getting an opportunity or Felix not getting an opportunity in Game One, it’s bigger than those guys just not getting an opportunity,” Tomlin said. “It’s about what’s occurring when the ball is snapped and the fact that we’re not converting third downs and we’re limiting our opportunities because of it.”

In other news, Tomlin said he expects tight end Heath Miller’s practice workload to increase this week, though he stopped short of saying the veteran tight end will make his season debut Sunday night against the Bears.

“Heath Miller worked in a partial capacity last week,” he said. “We expect him to work fully this week, and see where that participation takes us. Make no mistake, we are not expecting Heath to step out of a phone booth with a cape on, but we are looking forward to watching him work and let the result of that work guide us in terms of how we proceed throughout the week.”

NOTES: The Steelers signed cornerback Isaiah Green to the active roster from the practice squad. … To make room for Green, Pittsburgh released veteran kicker Shayne Graham on Tuesday, a week after signing him to back up Shaun Suisham, who suffered a minor hamstring injury in the season opener.

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