The Pittsburgh Steelers have a great offense … until it gets in the redzone. Expect large improvements in 2017 due to some subtle personnel changes.
The Steelers redzone offense was extremely frustrating last year. Many times the Steelers would march up the field just to stall out and settle for a field goal at best. It’s not even that the red zone offense is that bad, just that its mediocrity stands out when the Steelers are so good the further they are from the goal line.
There are a couple factors that probably won’t change. First, one of Ben’s big advantages relative to other quarterbacks, his monster throwing strength, is rendered neutral inside the 20 yard line.
Second, Todd Haley’s play calling involves a lot of passing in the red zone. Look, Todd Haley is great at drawing up plays, and he’s added five years to Big Ben’s career, but he’s sometimes too clever for his own good. Just run it in.
The Steelers red zone offense isn’t terrible. It’s just consistently mediocre. Since their ascendance to offensive powerhouse in 2014, they’ve been middling in the red zone. In 2014, they had the 2nd ranked offense and were 19th in the red zone TD percentage. In 2015, they were the 3rd ranked offense and 13th in red zone TDs. Last year, they were the 7th ranked offense and 16th in red zone TDs.
However, the Steelers should improve in the red zone this year. The big reason is the personnel.
Obviously, Heath Miller was the best tight end to ever wear the black and gold. That said, he wasn’t around last year. Even when he was in years past, he was past his prime, though effective, during the big offense era. Last year they stumbled with an often injured Ladarius Green.
The big, and I do mean big, advantage they’ll have now is 6’7″ Jesse James. He’s looking to have a big year with now being the number one guy. Consider also he only turned 23 last month. He was a standout during a tumultuous time at Penn State, starting as a redshirt and coming out early. There’s a lot of untapped potential.
Along with versatile 6’4″ Xavier Grimble showing he can hang by filing away a pair of touchdowns and a handful of big plays in his first year off of practice squads, expect big things from the tight ends.
Martavis Bryant and WR Depth
Big Ben has spent his entire career asking for a big target at wideout. Ironically though he got Hines Ward and Antonio Bell, sometimes good things come from where you least expect it. That said, if you remember, Bryant is a monster in the endzone. He’s 6’4″, fast, and knows hot to be elusive. Sammie Coates, now healthy, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, now present, standing 6’2″ each shouldn’t hurt either.
Long time wide receivers coach Richard Mann according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recently said of his group of wide receivers, “I don’t know if I’ve had this much depth.” With 33 years in the business and a Super Bowl ring for his efforts, that’s saying something.
Roosevelt Nix’s official position is fullback. The Steelers tend to use him however as an all-purpose cannonball. Nix played in school on the defensive size but his size and athletic attributes make him an awkward fit for many positions, but he’s seemed to have found a home at fullback. He’s great on special teams, but his performance at fullback is where he’ll aid the redzone.
In his first year, 2015, Nix played in 15 games and only started four but showed enough to be the 7th ranked fullback in the league in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000. In 2016, he played well but struggled with some injuries and looks to return to form in 2016. Nix is going to be able to blow linebackers out of holes and kick out defensive ends to make room for Le’Veon Bell to stroll into the endzone.
So as you can see, the Steelers have the tools. As long as they stay healthy and keep improving the red zone offense, should along with them. As great as Chris Boswell has been at navigating those tricky Heinz Field winds, I for one hope he kicks so many extra points he starts to see the 15 yard line in his sleep.