Skip to main content

5 for Friday: No, you don't have to score 30 points per game

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a dozen times this offseason: Even if Kenny Pickett makes a big jump in Year 2, can the Steelers score the 30-plus points they'll need to put up to beat the Chiefs.

It would be a valid argument if the Chiefs actually averaged 30 points per game in 2022. They did not.

In fact, not one NFL team averaged 30 points per game in 2022. Now, the Chiefs did lead the NFL last season, averaging 29.2 points per game, but they actually had more games under 30 points – nine – than they did scoring more than that.

In the playoffs, they scored more than 30 in just one of their three games.

So, arguing that you HAVE to score 30 to beat the Chiefs is false. Kansas City scored under that total in 11 of its 20 games last season.

In fact, Kansas City scored 17, 20 and 24 points in its three losses last season to Indianapolis, Buffalo and Cincinnati. The Chiefs scored 20 in an overtime win over the Titans.

The Steelers averaged 18.1 points per game last season. That's obviously not good enough.

But over their final nine games – when they went 7-2 – they averaged 19.8 points per game.

Again, that's still not good enough. But realize that just seven teams averaged 25 or more points per game in 2022. Two of them, the Bills and Bengals, beat the Chiefs.

Twelve teams held opponents to fewer than 21 points per game, including the Steelers. The Bills and Bengals were both among those teams, as well.

So, the idea is having a balanced team offensively and defensively to knock off the champs.

Kansas City, after all, was not among those teams that limited opponents to 21 or fewer points.

The idea should not be to beat Kansas City in a shootout. You're going to lose if you try to get into a run-and-gun game with Patrick Mahomes.

The idea is to play a solid defensive game and control the football offensively, limiting Mahomes' possessions.

The Steelers scored 29 touchdowns in 2022, 28 offensive and one defensive. They led the NFL with 44 field goal attempts. If they can turn, say, 12 of those field goal drives into touchdown drives – which isn't asking for much improvement – that's roughly an extra three points per game.

Those 32 field goal attempts, by the way, would be what the Chiefs attempted in 2022.

Now, tack on an extra touchdown here or there and you get even more improvement.

The bottom line is that defense still matters. Get stops. Take the ball away. Those are still part of the equation, as well, as long as the offense does its part.

• We're now three weeks away from the 2023 NFL Draft and the Steelers have brought in players from nearly every position group for their 30 pre-draft visits.

There have been wide receivers, interior offensive linemen, offensive tackles, defensive tackles, cornerbacks and safeties.

At this point, the only positions from which they haven't hosted players is at quarterback, running back and linebacker, both inside and outside.

Anybody trying to truly guess their intentions is doing just that – guessing.

Considering they've hosted a number of cornerbacks and defensive linemen, there is an assumption they're highly interested in adding at those two spots.

But they've also hosted four interior offensive linemen to this point. This after signing Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, both of whom have experience at all three interior offensive line spots.

There seems to be a thoughtfully non-rhythmic approach to who they bring in. Is it a smokescreen? Is their interest in adding more interior offensive linemen? Gotta keep everyone guessing.

That's what this time of year is all about.

• The Steelers haven't taken defensive players with their top two picks in the draft since selecting cornerback Artie Burns in the first round and safety Sean Davis in the second in 2016. In fact, their first three picks in the 2016 were defensive players, as nose tackle Javon Hargrave was taken in the third round that year.

That draft ended a streak of three consecutive in which the Steelers had taken defensive players with their top two picks acquiring linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt in 2014 and outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Senquez Golson in 2015.

After taking offensive players in the first two rounds of the past two drafts in Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens last year and running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth in 2021, it just might be time to go heavy on the defensive side of things this year.

Of the presumed 2023 starters on defense, the only ones under the age of 27 are safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and newly signed inside linebacker Cole Holcomb. Fitzpatrick and Holcomb are both 26, while Highsmith is 25.

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

An infusion of high-profile young talent on the defensive side of the ball could be in order to keep the roster balanced out.

• One spot that remains in need of more competition is the slot defensive back.

Notice the use of the term defensive back, not slot corner.

The idea in today's NFL is to not simply take an undersized cornerback and put him in the slot. Look at the background of nearly every safety available in this year's draft and you'll find that he played a lot in the slot in college.

That's not by accident.

The wide receivers that wind up in the slot are no longer automatically the undersized quick guys of the past. Now, you'll still see some of the smaller, quick guys, but you'll also see bigger-bodied slots – such as JuJu Smith-Schuster – and even tight ends.

And working in the slot, you'd better be able to help out stopping the run.

That's why even if the Steelers do happen to select a cornerback early in the upcoming draft, they could still select a safety, as well, despite the re-signing of Damontae Kazee and free agent Keanu Neal.

• The idea that teams shouldn't take a running back in the first round has grown strong among the analytics crowd.

But if you look at the running backs, of the past 12 taken in the first round – which takes us back to 2015 – there's really only been one that hasn't produced at a high level immediately, that being Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the Chiefs. And he was the 32nd pick in the 2020 draft.

Others have had spotty play, such as Sony Michel or Rashad Penny, but even if you consider those players misses, that's still a 75 percent hit rate.

Related Content