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MIRZA ZUKIC: Steelers winning despite inefficient red-zone offense

on November 24, 2013 2:00 AM

Call it Big Ben being diplomatic or call it Big Ben not willing to throw his teammates under the bus. Whatever it is, he’s just flat out wrong.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense have every reason to feel good after last week’s season-best 37-point outing against a respectable Detroit defense.

But if there was one glaring problem even as the Steelers piled up 398 yards and shredded the Lions was the red zone inefficiency. Pittsburgh went 1-for-4, converting on its final possession inside the Lions’ 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

Yet after Wednesday’s practice, Roethlisberger said the difference in the offense in recent weeks — during Pittsburgh’s current 4-2 stretch following an 0-4 start — has been the red-zone offense.

“We’ve done a little better in the red zone,” Roethlisberger said. “If you ask me, we still have a long way to go in that area of our offense, but we’ve gotten better. We’ve scored a couple times when we’ve got down there. ... We still left a lot out there so we still have a long way to go.”

Hard to argue with the fact the Steelers’ offense has ways to go in the red zone.

But it’s even harder to take Roethlisberger seriously when he says they’ve improved in the red zone.

Here’s the Steelers’ red-zone efficiency, game-by-game this season.

• 1-for-2 vs. the Titans

• 1-for-1 vs. the Bengals

• 0-for-2 vs. the Bears

• 3-for-6 vs. the Vikings

• 0-for-2 vs. the Jets

• 1-for-3 vs. the Ravens

• 2-for-4 vs. the Raiders

• 3-for-4 vs. the Patriots

• 2-for-5 vs. the Bills

• 1-for-4 vs. the Lions

That’s 14-for-33, a less than impressive 42 percent and the reason the Steelers are ahead of only four teams in red-zone efficiency.

The Steelers didn’t win last week because of their red-zone offense.

They won because Antonio Brown turned two short passes into long touchdowns with his speed.

They won because the defense clamped down in the second half and shut out Matthew Stafford, Megatron and the Lions’ potent offense.

They won because they averaged 7.5 yards per play on first down, opening up their entire playbook for second- and third-down calls.

The Steelers didn’t win last week because of their red-zone offense. If anything, the red-zone offense hindered the Steelers last week. They should have put up 45-plus points and won by at least another touchdown.

The fact the Steelers converted on their final red-zone possession — on Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery that iced the game — might have masked some of your eyes. The sheer fact they scored 37 points might have done the same.

But don’t forget the Steelers had a first-and-goal from the half-yard line and had to kick a field goal.

Part of the problem is that the Steelers are too predictable in the red zone. Their running game is too predictable. In the passing game, they lack a tall receiver who is a big target in the red zone; a guy Big Ben can lob passes to on fade patterns in the corner of the end zone.

And that makes the decision to make Derek Moye inactive the past two games all the more intriguing.

Though hardly a household name, Moye is the Steelers’ only receiver taller than 6-foot-1. If there’s a better place to use him than the red zone, I’d like to know it.

I know he dropped a ball in the end zone against the Ravens a few weeks back, but he also came up with a touchdown on a fade pattern in the Week 2 loss to the Bengals. Big name or not, his 6-foot-5 frame makes him a red-zone threat. The Steelers need to use him more.

Imagine where the Steelers could be if they were just a little better in the red zone this year. They might be in first place in the AFC North.

The Steelers are winning despite their red-zone offense, not because of it.


Mirza Zukic is in his third season covering the Steelers for The Indiana Gazette. Email: Twitter: @MirzaZuka.

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