Unlike in other losses that the Packers have experienced this season, the offense moved the ball relatively well throughout the course of the game, including an opening possession score and averaging 6.1 yards per play overall, which would be third-highest rate over the course of the season. However, that first drive was Green Bay’s lone red zone touchdown of the day. Despite making five trips inside the Steelers 20-yard line, the Packers left with only one touchdown.
“We kicked too many field goals,” said Matt LaFleur after the game. “When you get into a position to score touchdowns, you’ve got to convert. I’ve got to go back and look at the tape and see why we got stopped, but those are missed opportunities in my mind.”
The Steelers entered Sunday’s game allowing 5.5 yards per play to opponents, which ranked 26th in the NFL. But where they have buckled down and truly flexed their muscles has been in the red zone as the Packers saw. Coming into Week 10, behind an aggressive front seven, Pittsburgh was allowing a touchdown on just 45.6 percent of their opponents’ red zone visits, good for the eighth-best rate this season.
Two of those failed red zone attempts by Green Bay came in an all too familiar situation at the end of the game where a touchdown would have given them the lead. Instead, like those previous opportunities, both drives ended with interceptions by Love.
The first came on a pass attempt to Christian Watson that Love should have gone elsewhere with, given how well Patrick Peterson had the play defended. LaFleur said that considering how Pittsburgh defended the play, going to Watson in that situation was not the intent of the play call and going backside with the throw would have been the correct decision.
“We ran a double-move on the outside,” said Love postgame. “We ran that route earlier, and they jumped it. So we ran the double-move. I thought I was able to get Christian over the top and was trying to put the ball where only he could get it, and the DB was able to make a good play, get a hand on it and tip it up.”
“It might have been short with him to get a hand on it. It was a terrific play by him. I wish I would have put it a little more out there where only Christian could get it and make a play on it. Kudos to him. He made a great play.”
The other failed red zone opportunity at the end of the game came with just three seconds left. As LaFleur described, the Steelers put multiple defenders at the goal line, Green Bay ran a corner route with the hope that one defender would follow that pass catcher. However, the Steelers remained disciplined and it led to an easy interception as Love tried to get the ball to the in-breaking route that was well covered.
The Packers entered this game ranked 17th in red zone success rate – right around league average – although their overall figure is bolstered by some early season success. Ironically, when the overall play from the offense has improved recently, they’ve been abysmal in the red zone. In the last three games, they are averaging an impressive 4.3 red zone trips per game, but have converted only three of their 13 total attempts into six points.
Operating in this part of the field is inherently more difficult, in large part because there is simply less space to work within. With things more congested, it makes running the ball more difficult and makes it more challenging for pass catchers to create separation. The margin for error for an offense that already is very inconsistent is much smaller in the red zone and mistakes – which there are a lot of – are magnified.
“It just comes down to making plays,” said Love about the Packers red zone issues.” The defense, they stepped up. They did a good job. Stopped us, not letting us in there. I think it just comes down to making plays. I wish looking back, maybe I would have scrambled a little bit more at the end in those situations and just tried to extend plays a little bit more. I think they had a pretty good plan in the red zone and they’ve been a pretty good team in the red zone.”
There is the butterfly effect to take into account, but given how the game ended, coming up with on additional touchdown could have been the difference in a win and a loss for the Packers. Finding a way to score on even three of their five red zone trips could have led to a comfortable victory.
We frequently hear this Packers team talk about how close they are. To a degree, sure, what else are they supposed to say at 3-6? With that said, when they have made 13 red zone trips in three games, you can also see why they think that as well.
There is still a lot of things to clean up for this offense, although it does feel like some progress was still made on Sunday. But regardless of that part of the equation, it’s another loss where Green Bay had the opportunity to win. Until they button things up in the red zone and become more efficient in that part of the field, winning won’t come easy.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Love. “Like I said, we’ve been in this situation a lot of times and have not found a way to win it. It is frustrating but we’ve just got to find a way. Dig deeper. But it comes down to so many plays in the game, throughout the course of the game, that if we can execute better and take advantage of some of those situations, I don’t think we would put ourselves in this position at the end of the game. But we definitely got to find a way.”