'A level of focus, an intensity'

Posted Jan 3, 2018

Steelers embrace self-scouting during bye.

The Steelers’ postseason bye week, per head coach Mike Tomlin’s outline, will be used for the addressing of known issues, the search for increased clarity in the deployment of personnel and the continued development of skill and technique.

What that all ultimately means remains to be seen.

Following is a look at some of what the Steelers are looking at in the meantime:

By The Numbers: The Steelers finished the regular season No. 3 in the NFL in total offense (No. 20 rushing, No. 3 passing), tied for No. 11 in giveaways (20), No. 22 in the red zone (TDs on 50.8 percent of their red zone possessions), No. 2 on third downs (converting 44.0 percent) and No. 8 in points per game (25.38).

The Trend: The Steelers averaged 31.29 points per game over their final seven games.

“I went back and really watched myself throughout the course of this year,” running back Le’Veon Bell explained. “There are a lot of balls that I kind of take my eyes off of it when I’m catching it. Sometimes, it results in me dropping it.

“I’ve been constantly putting effort in, especially today in practice, of just making sure I look the ball all the way in. It can come down to a third-and-6, and (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) checking the ball down and I’m looking to try to make a play before I actually catch the ball and I secure it and we have to punt the ball. I don’t want to be in that situation. For me, self-scouting was concentrating on the ball and tucking it.”

By The Numbers: The Steelers finished No. 5 in total defense (No. 10 rushing, No. 5 passing), tied for No. 13 in takeaways (22), No. 28 in the red zone (61.5 percent), No. 7 on third downs (36.2 percent) and No. 7 in points per game against (19.25).

The Trend: Since inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was injured on the third defensive snap on Dec. 4 at Cincinnati, opponents have averaged 126.4 rushing yards per game and 5.22 yards per rushing attempt. The Steelers allowed averages of 105.8 yards per game and 4.40 yards per attempt on the season. Opponents scored six rushing touchdowns in the first 11 games and six more in the final five.

“It was a long meeting today,” free safety Mike Mitchell said. “A lot of mistakes that people are probably going to try to use against us when it counts, we gotta get them corrected.”

Added defensive end and defensive captain Cam Heyward: “We don’t know who we’re playing but we can look at where we made mistakes, the personnel we were in, the personnel they were in. If we can clean that up now and have a good understanding going into it I think we’ll be better off.”

Heyward said he detected “a level of focus, an intensity,” in practice.

“Every rep is weighted a little differently,” he added. “We have one game guaranteed. We have to make the most of it.”

By The Numbers: The Steelers were No. 23 in punt return average (6.9 yards per), No. 29 in kickoff return average (19.1), No. 18 in opponents’ punt return average (7.7) and No. 15 in opponents’ kickoff return average (21.1). Jordan Berry was No. 31 in gross punting average (43.2) and No. 23 in net punting average (39.8). Kicker Chris Boswell tied for fourth among kickers in scoring (142 points). Boswell made four game-winning kicks (field goals within one minute remaining in regulation or in overtime).

The Trend: The Steelers had a season-high 82 yards on punt returns on Dec. 25 at Houston (wide receiver Eli Rogers averaged 16.4 yards on five attempts) and a season-high 157 yards on kickoff returns on Dec. 31 against Cleveland (122 from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, including a 96-yard touchdown).

“We’ve been close all year,” linebacker and special teams player Tyler Matakevich maintained. “Lately, we’ve really been emphasizing and guys have just been focusing on finishing.

“I’ve been saying all year, people forget how important special teams really are. Guys (that play on special teams) have always known how important it is but guys are really just trying to emphasize it. They see, when we do finish blocks, you see the success we’ve been having recently. The results are finally showing.”