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Steelers Offensive Numbers Showing Signs of Life at Bye Week

Checking out the Pittsburgh Steelers offense at the break.

The Pittsburgh Steelers got off to an incredibly slow start on the offense side of the football this season. 

After failing to score more than 17 points in each of their first three contests, the offense has improved over the past three weeks, averaging a shade over 22 points per game. The Steelers offense isn't going to suddenly revert back to where they were in 2017. That is not even within the realm of possibilities at this very moment. However, continuing to steadily improve over the course of the season would be an awfully encouraging sight for a team that is seeking a playoff berth in 2021. 

Let's take a look at some of the advanced numbers for weeks 1-3 and where they ranked: 

Expected points averaged/per play: 28th
Success rate: 32nd
Dropback EPA: 27th
Dropback success rate: 31st
Rushing EPA: 26th
Rushing success rate: 32nd

Regardless of how you slice those numbers above, it leaves you shaking your head in disgust. This was an offense that was performing well below even the most modest expectations for the season. There was nothing that this group was doing at a competent level, leaving them as a unit without an identity. 

Fast forward to the bye week and look at those same numbers from weeks 4-6: 

Expected points averaged/per play: 17th
Success rate: 22nd
Dropback EPA: 21st 
Dropback success rate: 21st 
Rushing EPA: 10th 
Rushing success rate: 20th 

No one is claiming that those are eye-popping numbers, but that's a substantial improvement for a unit that looked completely lost prior to this stretch. Those numbers are much closer in line with what we thought we would see from this unit throughout the season.

So, what changed? Quite simply, the offensive line is playing significantly better. If you're looking to place praise anywhere, start there. The line has seen a significant jump in effectiveness in both the passing game and the running game. They've been able to keep Ben Roethlisberger off of the ground for the most part, and they've actually created some push at the point of attack in the run game.

Speaking of Roethlisberger, his advanced numbers have risen over the past three weeks now that he's been a bit more comfortable. He's ranked 22nd in EPA/per play and 23rd in success rate in that time frame, showing some signs of life in his 18th career season. Can he play better? Absolutely. 

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There's been a handful of throws that he would like to have back, but father time is here, knocking on his doorstep. It's probably not reasonable to expect a significant improvement the rest of the way from the 39-year-old unless someone is able to find a working time machine somewhere in the 412-area code. Still, his play during this stretch has been competent, and he's shown signs of life. That's more hope and optimism than what we saw in the early going. 

If the Steelers are going to continue trending in the right direction offensively, it's going to be behind rookie tailback Najee Harris. The Steelers have been a solid rushing attack with Harris as their primary ball carrier over the past three weeks. If they plan to continue on this path of improvement, he's going to be the main culprit behind the success. Harris averaged 4.3 yards per carry during the past three-game stretch, up from 3.1 in the first three weeks of the season.

The Steelers' recipe for success is a heavy dose of effective, efficient running from their first-round pick and consistent, competent play from their future Hall of Fame quarterback. If this offense can continue to improve and morph into an average offense the rest of the way, the Steelers might be in business. If you couple that with improvement from the defensive side of the ball in that same span, their playoff dreams could very well become a reality. 

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