5 for Friday: Offensive numbers dipping across NFL

What's going on with scoring in the NFL?

In last week's games, there were less than two offensive touchdowns per team across the league.

Unfortunately, it's not been anything outside the norm this season. Scoring is at 43.4 points per game, which puts it at pre-2010 levels. Last season it was at 43.3 points per game. And remember, the Dolphins had a 70-point output in one game to skew the numbers.

This is not just an issue for the Steelers. It's been an issue across the NFL.

Heading into Week 7, just seven NFL teams are averaging more than 25 points per game. Two are averaging more than 30. Conversely, 13 teams are posting less than 20 points per week. Touchdowns are being scored at the lowest rate since 2010.

If you'll recall, 2010 was when the NFL changed its rules, opening the door for wide receivers to catch the ball over the middle without fear of the safeties blasting them.

Why is this the case?

It could be a myriad of things.

First, the defensive linemen coming into the NFL are freaks of nature. And they have a huge athletic advantage over offensive linemen.

Look at the latest NFL Scouting Combine for proof of that.

The average 40-yard dash time for defensive ends was 4.81 seconds. For offensive tackles, it was 5.24 seconds. For vertical jump it was 33.5 inches for defensive ends and 28.44 inches for offensive tackles. It goes like that in all of the athletic testing. And that doesn't include all the 250-pound edge rushers who are coming into the league who run sub-4.5 second 40-yard dashes.

They make it difficult for quarterbacks to operate efficiently. Sacks are occurring on 7.2 percent of all dropbacks, the highest rate since 2000.

Knowing this, defenses also are taking away big plays by playing more deep shell zone coverages. Cover-2 rates (2-deep safeties) are at 39.7 percent. Four years ago, that rate was at 35.8 percent. And it's risen every season since. To score, teams need to put together longer, sustained drives.

The feeling is that somewhere along the way, the offense will make a mistake. It will give up a sack, take a penalty, have a negative play, or just an incompletion to stop a drive.

And with 2023 being the youngest group of starting quarterbacks in this century – one that has gotten even younger with some of the injuries that have occurred this season – it makes it even more difficult for offenses to consistently move the ball.

That final point might be the biggest component of this. Of the 32 quarterbacks who will start games in Week 7, nearly half are in their fourth year or less in the league.

Not surprisingly, the teams that are starting the young quarterbacks – including the Steelers with Kenny Pickett – are in the bottom half of the league in scoring.

Young quarterbacks take time to develop. Unfortunately, NFL teams really don't have the time to wait for them to do so.

Another of the reasons scoring is down is because red zone offenses just aren't putting the ball in the end zone often enough.

Witness Baltimore's win over the Titans last week. The Ravens kicked six field goals in that game, with four of them coming from 30 yards or shorter. Overall, Baltimore was 1 of 6 scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

It's something that's happening across the league as teams are converting just over 53 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns this season.

That's the lowest rate through six weeks since 2011.

Typically, young quarterbacks have issues inside the red zone. The field is condensed and the throwing windows are a little more tight.

With so many young quarterbacks playing across the league, it's not surprising red zone numbers are down as a whole.

• The entire AFC North heads into Week 7 at .500 or better. That makes the division the only one in the NFL in which no team is currently under .500. But every team in the division also has at least two losses.

It's also a division in which points have been tough to come by.

The Ravens lead the way among AFC North teams scoring 22.1 points per game. That makes Baltimore the only AFC North team to currently be averaging 20 or more points per game.

Conversely, Baltimore and Cleveland have been very stingy on defense, allowing 15.2 and 15.4 points per game. Cincinnati is at 21.2, and the Steelers are giving up 22.0 points per game. That's bound to improve for the Steelers as they get their running game going in the second half of this season.

Now, the Bengals did average 26.1 points per game last season, so there's at least some hope in Cincinnati that they'll turn things around offensively. But there are no guarantees.

The bottom line is that if the Steelers can get their offense playing more consistently coming out of their bye week, they should be able to stay in this race the whole way. Nobody is running away with this division.

• With two sacks Sunday, T.J. Watt would become just the third player in NFL history to record multiple sacks in four of his team's first six games, joining Denver's Elvis Dumervil (2009) and former Steelers star Kevin Greene, who did it for Carolina in 1998.

Watt enters Sunday's game with 85.5 career sacks in 92 games. With two more sacks, he would match his brother, T.J., for the second-most sacks in a player's first 100 games in NFL history. Reggie White holds the record with 105.

Watt isn't likely to get that number, but considering he's averaged 1.2 sacks per game since the start of the 2021 season – no other player has averaged 1.0 sacks per game in that period – there's a good chance he gets to that mark. 

• Craig Wrolstad's crew will officiate the Steelers' game against the Rams this week.

That's good news for those who want to see games run smoothly without over-officiation.

Wrolstad's crew has called just 9.4 penalties per game this season, the second-fewest among NFL officiating crews in the first six weeks.

Contrast that with the 25 accepted penalties in last week's San Francisco-Cleveland game and you see the difference. There was little flow to that game.

The crew has called eight false starts, seven offensive holding and six defensive pass interference penalties in the five games they've worked this season. That's not awful.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

• Imagine for a moment that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced at his Tuesday press conference exactly who his starters were going to be at a number of positions. Imagine the outcry from some about how he was tipping his hand to the following week's opponent.

That's essentially what has happened in the case of cornerback Joey Porter Jr. each week.

Porter has played more and more each week. He's a vital part of the team's pass defense whether he's "officially" named a starter or not. He began the season playing in the dime defense and has now moved into being a regular in the nickel defense, as well.

The Rams play with three wide receivers on the field more than 90 percent of the time. It's their base offense and they have at least three receivers on the field more than any other team in the NFL.

The way to defend that is to utilize a nickel or dime defense. Rest assured, Porter will probably be on the field a lot this week.