Steelers scoring offense awakens

It’s called a day at the office for Peyton Manning. More accurately, it’s three quarters of work for Manning and the high-scoring Denver Broncos.

For the Steelers (4-6), averaging 30 points per game is news no matter how small the sample size. They have done that over the past three games, scoring 31, 23 and 37 points against the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. The 37-point effort against the Lions was the highest number of points scored in the 26-game tenure of offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

The past three weeks also represents the best three-game stretch for the offense under Haley. More than that, it’s the best three-game stretch for the offense since the 2009 season. Better than any in the 2010 Super Bowl season. Better than any in 2011, when they were 12-4 and made the playoffs. Certainly better than 2012, when they scored more than 30 points in a game once, in a loss at Oakland.

This season the offense got off to another slow start with 19 points combined in the first two games in losses to Tennessee and Cincinnati. But since then it has been averaging 24.8 points per game. That eight-game average is approaching the top 10 in scoring in the NFL this season.

“We were making a lot of mistakes early on,” veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “I said last year it was going to take some time to get adjusted to the offense. You had guys who had been in one system for so long. People don’t understand how difficult it is. I got a glimpse of it when I was able to play with Brett Favre [with the New York Jets], who had been in one system for so long. It was just hard for him to get his mind out of the system he had just come from.

“It was the same thing with the guys who had been around here. They had to get use to the terminology, get used to the details of how things should be done in this offense. Plus, we had moving parts early on with [Maurkice] Pouncey going down. We still have some injuries, but it seems like guys are settling in and it’s allowing guys to grow in their roles. We’ve just been getting better. We felt like we were growing in some of those losses. The results have shown that we were.”

The Steelers are 15th in the NFL in total offense, averaging 343 yards per game, and they’re getting the vast majority of those yards from their passing game. Ben Roethlisberger threw for four touchdowns and passed for 367 yards against the Lions, and his 2,901 passing yards are the most in franchise history through the first 10 games of a season.

The most intriguing aspect of the increased scoring is the Steelers are still struggling in the red zone. They rank 31st in the league in red-zone offense behind only Jacksonville. Big plays in the passing game have helped, especially in recent weeks.

Antonio Brown scored on passing plays of 34 and 47 yards against Detroit. Cotchery added a 20-yard touchdown catch. Brown had a 27-yard touchdown and Cotchery added another 20-yarder against the Patriots.

The Steelers scored two red-zone touchdowns against the Patriots and Bills, but only one in their four trips inside the red zone against Detroit, lowering their season touchdown percentage in the red zone to 42 percent. The league average is around 54 percent.

“We’ve done a little better in the red zone,” Roethlisberger said. “If you ask me, we still have a long way to go in that area of our offense, but we’ve gotten better. We’ve scored a couple of times we got down there. We feel like we’ve still left a lot out there, so we have a long way to go.”

If the Steelers can fix their red-zone problems they might be able to hit the 40-point mark, something they have not done since the final game of the 2009 season when they scored 41 in a win at Cleveland, which is where the Steelers hope to continue their hot streak Sunday.

“We have a lot of playmakers on offense,” Cotchery said. “There’s always room for growth. It feels good to put up 37 points and still know you left some points out there in the red zone. We’re going to work hard at that and make sure we’re still taking care of the things we’re doing well right now.”

Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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