Steelers no longer seeing red when driving inside opposing 20

November 24, 2018

Art Rooney II spoke. The Pittsburgh Steelers have listened.

In February, the Steelers team president expressed a desire for improved play inside the red zone. As the season nears the midpoint, first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has delivered results in that area.

The Steelers rank No. 2 in red-zone touchdown percentage, finding the end zone on 15 of 20 trips through seven games - a 75 percent success rate. Only the Cincinnati Bengals, at nearly 77 percent, have done better.

In 2017, the last year under former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers were No. 18 in red-zone touchdown percentage, converting at a 53 percent clip. The top three teams in 2017 all reached the NFL version of the final four -- Jacksonville (69 percent), Philadelphia (64) and New England (62.7).

“We’ve dedicated time to it,” Fichtner said Thursday. “I’d like to think some offseason study things we’ve done, some thoughtfulness things we knew we had to improve that had been an eyesore at times.”

And what were the eyesores?

“You can’t have negative plays,” Fichtner said. “We have turned it over two times down there, that’s probably the two times we may not have scored a touchdown.”

Interceptions thrown by Ben Roethlisberger against Cleveland in the season opener and against Atlanta in Week 5 - both passes were targeted for Antonio Brown - have accounted for the only times the Steelers haven’t produced points after driving inside the 20. The other three trips resulted in Chris Boswell field goals.

“It’s disappointing any time you turn the ball over,” Fichtner said. “When you are taking points off the board, you are not giving a chance to at least kick a field goal, and that’s shame on us. That’s not going to be accepted.

“We work hard to try to be better in that area, but without trying to take away the creativity of an established, veteran quarterback who will pull the trigger.”

The Steelers also have gotten touchdowns on 11 of 13 tries in goal-to-go situations. That ranks fourth among the 32 teams. Roethlisberger threw an interception from the Atlanta 7 near the end of the first half, and the Steelers were stopped for a 2-yard loss on a James Conner third-down run against Cincinnati and settled for a Boswell field goal.

“It boils down to execution and the guys have been executing,” Fichtner said. ”(AB makes a play, (Conner) makes a play, Ben makes a play. They are comfortable with what we are asking them to do.”

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