This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two games, but the Pittsburgh offense has the lowest first down conversion rate in the NFL, and also the lowest conversion percentage on second down, per PFF’s “Moving The Chains” chart. It tracks how often NFL teams convert to a new set of downs and also breaks down how often they do it on each down.
Somewhat surprisingly, Pittsburgh isn’t last in conversion percentage on third down, as that honor belongs to the Dallas Cowboys at 57%. The Steelers and the Texans are tied for second-worst at 57%. The Steelers’ problems come mostly on second down, as the team has converted a first down on just 33% of second downs, which is 5% worse than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who come in at No. 31 at 38%.
That’s been a major problem for Pittsburgh’s offense these past few years. If they have a failed first down run or incompletion, their second down play-calling has been incredibly underwhelming. Second and long runs are not usually a positive play, yet the Steelers have run the ball in that situation more than a few times over the past few years.
It makes things harder on 3rd down, and even when they don’t run on second and long, it’s rare they throw the ball to the sticks. Their conversion issues the last few years have a lot to do with the team throwing short and hoping a receiver can make a play. At some point, the offense has to at least try to take shots downfield so defenses can’t play their defensive backs forward without any fear of Pittsburgh hitting them over the top.
If the Steelers had a good enough offensive line to consistently get a solid push in the run game and pick up 4, 5, or 6 yards on early downs, then the offense would have a lot more success. That’s not the case though, and when you put yourself in 2nd and 8 and then 3rd and 4 situations all the time, it makes it harder to convert.
This year, the NFL average for conversions on second down is 49%. The Steelers are a whopping 16% lower than that, and their 59% third-down conversion rate is 10% lower than average. In short, what they’re doing right now is not working, and it’s not a winning formula. The offense has barely changed from last year when a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger was running the show.
Mitch Trubisky needs to be able to make better reads, and Matt Canada needs to adapt his offense. While a ground-and-pound offense worked for the Steelers in their heyday and throughout the 2000s, the offensive line isn’t built for it. Even though the modern NFL is trending more and more toward the pass, if Canada’s offense was actually getting positive results, none of this would be an issue. But the results speak for themselves. Something’s gotta change if the Steelers want to have success in 2022. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long season.