Red zone has been dead zone for Steelers’ offense

Red zone has been a dead zone for Pittsburgh’s offense

October 23, 2013
Steelers tight end Heath Miller gets into the end zone past Ravens defensive end Marcus Spears for a touchdown in Sunday’s game against Baltimore. Despite that touchdown, Pittsburgh is ranked 31st in the league in red-zone scoring. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Kicker Shaun Suisham was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week by the NFL Wednesday for his performance against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers would prefer that Suisham not have to win the award again.

They would rather not have to rely on Suisham to kick four field goals – including a game-winner as time expires – as they did Sunday. Suisham also had four field goals the previous week against the New York Jets. The Steelers (2-4) have reached the end zone on just six of 16 drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and their touchdown percentage of 37.5 percent on red-zone trips is 31st in the league, ahead of only winless Jacksonville.

“We always count on Suisham to make them, but we can’t keep relying on that,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “We’ve got to score seven points. That’s frustrating as a quarterback and an offense. When we get down there, we know what we want to do and what our goal is. We have to find a way to get it into the end zone.”

Roethlisberger has completed 18 of 29 passes for 82 yards and four touchdowns without an interception inside the 20, a passer rating of 105.9. But he has taken some crucial sacks inside the red zone, including three against Baltimore.

“The defense usually blitzes down there because the ball has to come out quicker and there’s no deep-play threats,” Roethlisberger said. “We just haven’t been good enough down there in all phases of the game – from the coaches to the players to the line, quarterback, receivers, running backs – we all need to be better, and I think we will be.”

The Steelers will get some opportunities Sunday when play at Oakland (2-4). While Baltimore’s defense has been particularly stingy inside the 20 – five touchdowns in 19 opportunities – Oakland’s isn’t as stiff. Opponents have scored touchdowns 13 times in 22 trips inside the Raiders’ red zone.

Suisham, who has made 42 of his last 45 field-goal attempts and is 14-for-14 this season, has been outstanding, but the Steelers know they can’t continue to score only one touchdown per game and continue to win.

“We need to start thinking he’s going to miss, though we don’t want him to. We need to score touchdowns,” Roethlisberger said. “I always tell him ‘I hope we don’t use you for anything but one point after a touchdown. We need to be better down there.”

Improvement in the running game would help.

In 14 red zone rushing attempts, the Steelers have gained only 28 yards. Starter Le’Veon Bell has 12 of those carries for 20 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve got to execute in the red zone,” said wide receiver Antonio Brown. “We’ve had a couple of dropped balls, one by me. We’ve had a couple of false starts, a couple of turnovers. We’ve got to find a way to get the ball into the end zone. It’s that simple. We’re getting down to the red zone. If we scored touchdowns, then a lot of the games wouldn’t be so close.”

Odds and end zones

Offensive tackles Kelvin Beachum (ribs) and Marcus Gilbert (quad), tight ends Richard Gordon (toe) and Heath Miller (coach’s decision) and defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) were limited in practice Wednesday. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (abdomen), defensive end Cameron Heyward (illness) and linebackers Jarvis Jones (concussion), Lawrence Timmons (hand) and LaMarr Woodley (knee) were full participants. … Miller was voted by his teammates the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to the player who has fought back from injury or circumstance to return to the field. Miller will be presented with the award at the 21st Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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