Time of Possession Advantage Hurting Steelers Instead of Helping
PHILADELPHIA — The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Not on the scoreboard, mind you. That was demonstratively lopsided toward the squad from Eastern Pennsylvania, with the Eagles mercifully stopping at 35 points.
But the Steelers were dominant in time of possession, holding the ball for 34:18 to Philly’s 25:42. In South Philly, that and $10 can get you a cheesesteak, and that’s about it. It sure won’t get you a win in an NFL game.
There may have been a time in which time of possession was a meaningful statistic, but those days are long gone.
The Eagles sure weren’t worried about not having the ball as long as the Steelers with their multiple big-play touchdowns. And the Steelers having the ball as long as they did without scoring points was largely a negative.
“When you’re on the field for 14 plays, you’re leaving yourself open to make mistakes, whether that’s physically, mentally, some things happen,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “We need more explosive plays. We had opportunities today and didn’t connect on some. Penalties, again, hurt us. Things like that.”
Part of the difference is success in the critical red zone, when defenses contract and yards can be harder to come by. The Steelers made three trips to the red zone on Sunday and got 10 points. On the season, they’re 27th in the NFL with a 47.6% red-zone touchdown percentage.
But the Eagles also scored four touchdowns from outside the red zone. Those big plays have been nearly completely absent for the Steelers this season. The Steelers don’t have a single touchdown from beyond the red zone this year, and haven’t had one since Week 17 of 2021 against Cleveland, a 10-game streak.
An offense that is completely reliant on long drives to score isn’t going to be very successful.
“When you’re going 14 plays, 16 plays, something is going to happen, sooner or later,” Pickett said. “Guys get tired up front. It causes problems. It’s a dual-edged sword. It’s good to stay on the field and control the football and chew some clock up, but we’ve got to finish with some points. If we’re not getting points, it’s really not doing us any good.”
Of course, the answer isn’t necessarily just throwing it deep more, as the Steelers proved with failed attempts to do so on Sunday. With an offense that isn’t scaring defenses with its running game or short passing game, safeties and corners have plenty of latitude to sit back and try to keep from being the next victim of George Pickens’ personal highlight reel.
On the other side of the solace, the Steelers defense, which has certainly been impacted by being on the field too much at points this season, would have loved to be on the field a little bit longer on Sunday by not giving up those long touchdowns and making the Eagles work a little harder.
Against the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers defense tightened up in the red zone significantly, holding Tua Tagovailoa to several field goals and frustrating Mike McDaniel into an ill-advised fourth down attempt that helped kept the Steelers in the game.
The Eagles blitzed that strategy by going for the big play earlier in drive sequences, just like the Buffalo Bills did in Week 5. As long as the Steelers defense is susceptible to such tactics, while the offense is unable to execute them against opposing teams, things are going to continue to go sideways for Pittsburgh.