Line can improve Steelers in red zone

July, 8, 2012
7/08/12
9:30
AM ET
The newly rebuilt Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line should not only cut down on the hits on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It should increase Pittsburgh's red-zone efficiency.

One reason why the Steelers underachieved inside the 20-yard line -- they ranked 18th in that area in 2011 -- was the pressure on Roethlisberger. Since the start of the 2008 season, Roethlisberger has been sacked 22 times in the red zone, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Hank Gargiulo. That ranks as the second-most in the NFL behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who's been sacked 28 times.

That means Roethlisberger has been sacked on 8.8 percent of his dropbacks inside the 20, which also ranks second among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks. The only quarterback that has a higher percentage is the Ravens' Joe Flacco (9.1 percent).

While Roethlisberger has a tendency to boost his sacks total by trying to extend plays, the Steelers are looking to improve their protection this year. Pittsburgh's offensive line makeover includes starting two rookies (right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Mike Adams) and moving Willie Colon to left guard.

Increasing the Steelers' success in the red zone will lead to more points under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. There was no excuse for the Steelers to rank 12th in scoring in 2009 and 2010. And there was really no excuse for them to rank 21st this past season.

With a top-notch quarterback in Roethlisberger and two playmaking wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh is too talented offensively to average only 20.3 points per game in 2011 and score more than 30 points three times. A big part of the problem was the inability to score in the red zone. Last season, the Steelers recorded 27 touchdowns on 53 red-zone possessions, a 50.9 percent success rate. The Jets surprisingly ranked first at 65.5 percent.

Another area of emphasis in the red zone is improving Roethlisberger's accuracy inside the 20. He only completed half of his passes inside the red zone this past season compared to 64.7 percent outside the red zone -- a drop of 14.7 percentage points. The hope is better protection will lead to better throws.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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