Steelers need to start faster offensively

They key to kickstarting the struggling Steelers offense could be winning more on first and second down.

Through four games, the Steelers are converting 36.2 percent of their third downs, a big drop from the 54 percent they converted in the second half of the 2022 season.

That led to more sustained drives and a 7-2 record in their final nine games.

Getting back to that point is a big focus for the Steelers (2-2) as they head into a Week 5 game against the Ravens (3-1) at Acrisure Stadium Sunday.

"How do you convert more on second down and stay out the third downs to have less of those?" Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "We want to be balanced. We want to run the ball.

"We have to score more points and not get to third downs. We have to be better."

The Steelers are averaging 4.38 yards per play on first down, which ranks 28th in the NFL early in the season, something that needs to be better.

The Steelers were second in the league in drives of 10-plus plays in 2022 behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. But thus far, many of their possessions are bogging down before they get started, particularly early in games.

That has led to the team being forced to play from behind too often, particularly in their two losses to Houston and San Francisco, when they dug holes of 16-0 and 20-0 before getting things untracked.

The Steelers are averaging 3.5 points per game in the first quarter this season, which is tied for 18th in the NFL. They're allowing 7.5 points per game in the first quarter, most of that built on the backs of those two losses.

During Sunday's game broadcast on CBS, game announcer Spero Dades said Canada had told him in pre-game interviews he didn't believe the Steelers were built to come from behind.

Canada took exception to that, saying he had been misunderstood.

"The conversation was why we ran more runs and play-action against the Raiders versus the opening game," Canada said. "The start of that 49ers game didn't go the way we planned. Really didn't do anything until we had the 95 yard two-minute drive.

"You're not going to stick to your running plan in the plan of running play-action when you're down three scores. All we care about winning here is winning. So the conversation was at that point, the plan wasn't built to do that. I believed we were going to win till the end. I kept throwing it to the point and we had 46 dropbacks. At no point was that conversation meant in that regards. … At no point did I doubt our players, doubt where we are and that we can come back. No doubts."

Obviously, however, Canada would prefer the Steelers play from ahead. But he also knows that quarterback Kenny Pickett was one of the best in the NFL in 2022 in leading comebacks.

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

Pickett authored four game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks last season, both of which ranked among the best in the league.

Getting to that point where the Steelers are playing from ahead or just one score down won't be easy this week in a game against the Ravens, who are third in the NFL in total defense and tied for third in scoring defense.

And the Steelers are doing so while prepping Pickett to play with a bone bruise suffered in last week's 30-6 loss to the Texans. If Pickett cannot play, Mitch Trubisky would start against the Ravens.

"We're managing them both, doing what we've got to do to get them getting ready to play," Canada said. "Nothing has changed with Kenny's preparation. He feels he feels good about where he's at and we'll make sure Mitch is ready to go."