PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are averaging just 21 points a game this season, well short of their goal of 30.
Part of the Steelers’ scoring troubles come from being inefficient in the red zone. They are 16th in the NFL with a 50 touchdown scoring percentage, just 1-for-6 in the past two games.
In last Sunday’s 30-9 loss to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers settled for field goals in each of their red-zone opportunities. Improving on those opportunities figures to be vital Sunday when the Steelers (3-2) visit the Chiefs (5-0), the NFL’s lone unbeaten team, in Kansas City.
One answer might be to utilize running back Le’Veon Bell more often. All three of his touchdowns this season have come in the red zone, and his 51 yards rushing are second in the league.
Bell complained about his lack of touches following last week’s loss. However, he softened that stance as the week went on.
“I want to do what it takes to win games,” Bell said. “I think the biggest thing for me is as long as we’re getting in the end zone whether it’s me, receivers, Ben scrambling, the defense making touchdowns, I don’t care. I just want to get Ws. The easiest ways for us to get Ws, we need to go out there and do that.”
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant was expected to be the Steelers’ top red-zone target this year after sitting out last season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. However, he has been targeted just three times inside the 20 and does not have a reception.
Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has become quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy near the goal line. The second-round draft pick from Southern California has six red-zone targets and a team-high two touchdowns.
Roethlisberger believes the Steelers need more attention to detail in the red zone, though he admits things get more difficult the closer an offense gets to the end zone.
“It’s a shorter field,” Roethlisberger said. “Things happen quicker. You have to understand reads quicker. Sometimes teams give you looks you’re not prepared for. When I say not prepared for, it’s not a look they had given someone else that you saw on film study. You have to be able to make in-game adjustments as well. You have to have to your practice field stuff ready to go.”
The Steelers might need to score as many as points as possible against the Chiefs, who are averaging a league-best 32.8 a game.
“They do a lot of unusual things on offense and their defense gets after the quarterback, ball hawking in the secondary,” Roethlisberger said. “We are going into an awesome environment this week with the last undefeated team, a football team that is playing really well, that leads the AFC. What an awesome challenge for us.”
The Chiefs have just four interceptions through five games. While third-year cornerback Marcus Peters has only one pick this season, he already has 15 in his career.
Arrowhead Stadium is also one of the more difficult venues in the NFL for a visiting team, though the Steelers beat the Chiefs there, 18-16, in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game last season.
“They are really good,” Roethlisberger said. “Peters may be one of the best in the business. Always seems to around the ball, making plays. Even when it’s man coverage he leaves his man to intercept balls.
“You play a great team like this, a great team on the road, with the environment they always have there at Arrowhead. I am just excited for it. You do this long enough, you get excited for these matchups.”