NFL Football

Steelers have woes in red zone

(TSX / STATS) -- PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are having trouble scoring and their efficiency in the red zone is a big reason why.

The Steelers are tied for 16th in the NFL in touchdown scoring percentage in the red zone, but they're converting touchdowns at only a 42 percent over the last three weeks.

The Steelers are 1-2 in those games and they're coming off a 30-9 home loss to the Jaguars when they were 0 for 3 in the red zone.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the Steelers lack "details" within their offense, and he said that can be problematic in the red 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. That happened to us the first time down there on a third down. They gave us a look we weren't quite ready for. You have to be able to make in-game adjustments as well. You have to have your practice-field stuff ready to go."

Rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has become one of Roethlisberger's favorite red-zone targets. Roethlisberger has thrown his way six times in the red zone and he leads the Steelers with two touchdowns.

But other Steelers receivers haven't been as productive. Antonio Brown, who was one of the league's top red-zone threats in 2014 and 2015, has just one touchdown in the red zone in five games this season. He had eight apiece in 2014 and 2015 and four last season.

The return of Martavis Bryant was expected to bolster the red-zone offense, but Roethlisberger has barely looked his way. He does not have a catch in three red-zone targets.

The answer might be running back Le'Veon Bell, but the Steelers have been reluctant to use him in short-yardage situations. Bell has three red-zone touchdowns this season and is second in the league with 51 rushing yards in the red zone.

Bell said he wanted to be more involved in the offense on Monday, but he was more diplomatic Wednesday when asked about his touches in the red zone.

"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."

The Steelers are going to need all the points they can get in Kansas City. The Chiefs lead the league in scoring with 32.8 points per game.

SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 21-10. Steelers have won four of the past five, including a 43-14 victory in Pittsburgh last season. Steelers are 10-6 all-time at Arrowhead, but the Chiefs have won three of the past four regular-season meetings there. The Steelers and Chiefs have twice met in the playoffs, with the Steelers winning the most recent meeting in January. The Steelers beat the Chiefs, 18-16, in an AFC divisional round playoff game.

--The Steelers did not score a touchdown in three trips inside the red zone against the Jaguars. They're now 23rd in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on just half their trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Looking for a reason why the Steelers have lost two of three? Look no farther than their performance in the red zone. They're scoring touchdowns on just 40 percent of their trips to the red zone in that span.

"When the field gets short, where there's a lack of vertical field, leverage becomes more important, technical detail becomes more important, plan becomes more important," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've just got to get better. I'm not throwing up a white flag. I'm not panicking in any form or fashion. It wasn't good enough. We've got work to do."

--Head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to reinsert slot receiver Eli Rogers back into the lineup against the Chiefs. Rogers has been inactive the past two weeks because he muffed a punt in Chicago. The Steelers dressed Justin Hunter instead of Rogers against the Ravens and Jaguars, but Hunter produced just two catches for 11 yards in those two games.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Rogers is useful against man defense because he has a unique ability to beat man coverage. Roethlisberger intimated rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster is better in the slot against zone defenses.

"Yeah, I'm open to that," Tomlin said. "I was open to that a week ago. Like I said when we deactivated him, it wasn't a death sentence. It was an opportunity for him to re-center and get squared away from a technical standpoint, particularly from a field-the-punt standpoint, which is one of the core jobs that he possesses. He'll be given an opportunity to prove that and with wide receiver play this week, and we'll see where it leads us."

--Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed he did not rely on replays from the coach's booth to determine the two challenges he made against the Jaguars. He relied on what he saw from the field. In both instances, replays showed Tomlin had little or no chance of having the calls on the field overturned.

On the first one, Tomlin challenged a spot that gave the Jaguars a first down. On the second, he challenged a play when receiver Antonio Brown was ruled to have trapped a ball against the grass. Tomlin lost both challenges.

"No, I went with both of those," Tomlin said. "Very rarely will I challenge a line to gain, unless there's visually a line to gain. I was standing on the yard-marker. It was maybe the 40-yard line. There was a white line. When a line to gain is a line, that's the only time that I'll consider challenging the spot because now the visual evidence required to flip it, you've probably got a better shot in terms of seeing something definitive. I was standing on the line. I didn't think he got the line to gain. I was extremely confident in it. I challenged it. I didn't win the challenge. I (would) challenge it again under the same circumstances based on what I saw."

NOTES: RT Marcus Gilbert, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, went through a full practice Wednesday and said he expects to play in Kansas City. ... LG Ramon Foster did not practice Wednesday due to a back injury. ... C Maurkice Pouncey did not practice Wednesday due to a chest injury. ... LB Ryan Shazier was limited in practice Wednesday due to a quad injury.

Updated October 11, 2017

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