PITTSBURGH. Chase Claypool paused to consider the question.
Three games into the 2022 season, do the Pittsburgh Steelers have an offensive identity?
“Um, we have playmakers, but I don’t know if we have a personality,” Claypool said Monday afternoon. “I think we’re still figuring it out.”
Sitting 1-2 after back-to-back losses to the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers offense lacked cohesion or identity. Both running and passing games are in the bottom half of the league, and they have only scored four offensive touchdowns in three games.
While Claypool said Monday it was too early to be upset about the breach, there were hints of discontent in the Cleveland locker room Thursday night.
“I really couldn’t tell you,” Diontae Johnson said when asked what issues were preventing the offense from coming together. “It could be anything when it comes to them. When I tell them coaches. Not throwing them under the bus or anything but, you know, we can only do what they tell us to do and play and that’s it.”
However, the Steelers feel they are close to putting it all together.
“Frustration is just knowing how good you can be,” defenseman Kevin Dotson said. “And potential is one of those things, it’s a good thing and it can drag you down. … I feel like we just know how good we can be. And that’s what frustrates us that we’re not pushing like we could be.”
Signs of progress
No fuss scoring
For the second game in a row, the Steelers were successful moving into their tempo offense. In four of the seven games in the Steelers’ first scoring game against the Browns, the team did not use collusion and moved the ball 75 yards in three minutes. In the second round of scoring, the Steelers were undefeated in just three of 10 plays, but two of those plays had first downs.
“We did a pretty good job with the pace,” Claypool said. “Maybe we can come back to that if our offense stalls a bit, maybe we can add a bit of tempo to change the momentum or the flow of the game.”
The same problem plagued the Steelers a year ago, and the Ben Roethlisberger-led offense also seemed to find a better rhythm when they mixed up the pace, but Roethlisberger said early in the season that his once-great menu of tempo games had dwindled to a handful. In 2021, the Steelers mostly used the change-of-tempo offense in the second half, so it’s somewhat reassuring that offensive coordinator Matt Canada used it earlier against the Browns in Week 3. – huddle games before the final drive, during which they used it four times in seven games en route to a field goal.
“I think pace is always good,” center Mason Cole said. “I have played in various offenses where pace can be a serious weapon. You just need to find the right time to use this pace. I think we used him well in the first half of last game, but for some reason we didn’t use him as much in the second half.”
Deep balls in the first half
Against the Patriots and Bengals, Mitch Trubisky averaged only 5.1 yards per pass attempt, and against the Browns, Trubisky averaged 6.5 yards per attempt. His average was even better in the first half (8.4).
The Steelers even had the longest passing game in the first half when Trubisky hit rookie George Pickens with a 36-yard lead.
After the loss to the Patriots, Trubisky said the key to starting the outfield passing game was to create concepts to get receivers involved and then, when the lighting dictates, pass the ball to them. Both of these things happened in the first half, showing that the offense is capable of driving the ball down the field.
“We can be a very interesting offense,” Claypool said after the game. “We have a lot of young playmakers, so as long as they put us in positions to play, which may tend to be, we’ll be fine.”
But in the second half on Thursday night, Trubisky regressed to the level of his previous two games (averaging 5.2 yards per try), and in some cases receivers were unable to tackle the ball due to Trubisky’s deep attempts.
“It was good, but I think we didn’t get the chances we needed,” Trubisky said of the pass from the bottom of the field. “We hit a few downfield shots and we just had to deal with it. I can throw the ball better, they made some great shots and we can do more.”
The Steelers’ ground game isn’t fully complete yet, but Jaylen Warren continues to appear as an addition to Naji Harris. Against the Browns, the Steelers had an 88-79 yard lead in the first half and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the first half.
“Definitely in the last game, I would say run blocking,” Dotson said of the area where the offensive line improved the most.
But there is still room to grow. Warren fumbled the ball in the first half, and Harris still hasn’t passed the 100-yard mark in a game. However, the steady improvement in ground play is a plus in a bumpy offensive start.
Things to be improved
Orientation to the middle of the field
Trubisky ran the ball further down the field with more success than in the first two weeks, but there was still a noticeable lack of passes aimed at the middle of the field. Trubisky had only two tries between hashes against the Browns. In his last run of the game, Trubisky finally connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth, who was not targeted until the fourth quarter, over the middle for two intermediate finishes. But by then, the Steelers were two points behind.
“That’s where me and Pat are, so we’d like to focus more on the middle of the field,” Claypool said on Monday. “I think that was the focus, and we know what we need to do with our weaknesses, and this is one of them. So hopefully we’ll keep working on it.”
Third downs and possession time
The Steelers converted just 1 of 9 opportunities to score a third set against the Browns. In three weeks, the offense sold only 33.3% of attempts – this is 24th place in the league. On Thursday, the Steelers had four strikeouts in a row.
Due to poor implementation, the Steelers’ offense does not stay on the field for very long, putting even more pressure on the defense. The Browns had a 36:09–23:51 lead in possession, and the Steelers are last in the league this season, averaging 24:15, five minutes short of their average a year ago.
“We have to help our defense,” Cole said. “Consecutive three outs are not good for us and kill our defense. They had a 10-hand drive and we went out and hit three outs and the defense was right back on the field. It’s cruel.
“We can’t do this with our protection. Many people will say that our defense should play better on the run, but we should help our defense. be won.”