Notebook: Red-zone problems continue for struggling offense
The Steelers were feeling red-faced over their red-zone production in a 30-13 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.
Things began fairly well, with a field goal and a touchdown to show for the first two trips inside the Titans’ 20-yard line.
On three subsequent penetrations, the Steelers converted a field goal, had one blocked, and were stopped on downs at the Tennessee 1 in the final minute of the game.
“The red zone is about making plays, and we are just not making plays right now,” quarterback Tommy Maddox said. “We have got to find a way to score more touchdowns than field goals.”
It has been an ongoing problem for the Steelers, who began the day 10th among 16 AFC teams in red-zone efficiency, scoring only four touchdowns in 10 trips.
“I’m talking about it,” coach Bill Cowher said. “But I can’t sit there and just preach it to the point where it becomes almost you’re afraid when you get down there, you’re just looking for something bad to happen.”
Of particular note was a second-quarter red-zone penetration when the Steelers went the first two plays of a series before inserting 6-foot-5 wide receiver Plaxico Burress into the game. The Steelers settled for a 23-yard field goal.
In the past, Burress has been an effective option on fade patterns in such situations.
Late in the game, the Steelers had an injury-depleted receiving corps, but Cowher said unsuccessful runs by Amos Zereoue on third and fourth downs from the 1 were just goal-line offense.
The Steelers ended the game with a touchdown and two field goals in five red-zone appearances.
“That’s something that we have to work on,” receiver Hines Ward said. “That’s something that was a problem last year. Getting down to the red zone was never a problem. It’s just a matter, you want to put up touchdowns every time you get an opportunity to get down in there.”
The Steelers kept tight end Mark Bruener active, maybe because it was his turn, but more likely because they wanted blocking help for left tackle Oliver Ross, who started in place of Marvel Smith (shoulder). Tight end Matt Cushing, who has been alternating with Bruener, didn’t dress this week. The other inactives were Smith, running back Dante Brown, guard Keydrick Vincent, nose tackle Chris Hoke, wide receiver/kick returner Freddie Milons and linebacker Alonzo Jackson. Brian St. Pierre was the third quarterback.
Tackle Mathias Nkwenti was active for the only the second time in his three-year career.
The Titans deactivated two important starters — defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and tight end Frank Wycheck. The others were cornerback Mike Echols, running back Dwone Hicks, offensive tackle Matt Martin, offensive lineman Todd Williams and wide receiver Darrell Hill. Jason Gesser was the third quarterback.
Smith aggravated a shoulder injury on Thursday, but Cowher said he was hopeful that Smith would have been able to play yesterday.
“We were hopeful that it would be better today, but it wasn’t,” Cowher said. “It’s really nothing more than an inflammation of a nerve in the back of the shoulder. We’re hopeful he’ll be ready to go next week.”
Three other players were hurt, but Cowher doesn’t believe they are serious injuries. Wide receiver Hines Ward and tight end Jerame Tuman have concussions, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress has a hip pointer that required an x-ray after the game.
Cowher said rookie safety Troy Polamalu committed “a foolish penalty” when he grabbed Titans tackle Fred Miller by the face mask and threw him to the ground during a Titans’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. The penalty occurred after Miller was shoving and blocking Polamalu long after the whistle.
Since he was injured against the Titans last November, Maddox has thrown 15 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in 11 games.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“We played good, but we really didn’t.” — Steelers linebacker Joey Porter.