Steelers want 30 points per game, and they just might get it

PITTSBURGH -- Six NFL franchises have averaged at least 30 points a game in a season since 2011. The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers want to become the seventh.

This has been discussed openly around the Steelers locker room since last year, and it is as the subject of a personal challenge from offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who believes his group can finish the job. As quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said this week, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, hitting the 30-point mark is "still our goal. We were close last year, but we didn't get there."

Though the Steelers have been stuck in the 20s for each of the past two seasons, there's evidence an offense that found its groove about 19 months ago can make the jump, if healthy.

Roethlisberger, as always, is the catalyst. In the Steelers' past 21 regular-season games in which Roethlisberger played and finished, Pittsburgh averaged 30.14 points per game. That was 312 points in the final 10 games of 2014 -- after that ugly 31-10 loss at Cleveland in Week 6 -- and 321 points in 11 games of 2015. This 21-game stretch of 30.14 outshines every 2015 NFL offense save Carolina (31.3) and Arizona (30.6)

Roethlisberger missed 4½ games with a knee injury last season, including leaving the Week 3 win at St. Louis early.

The 2015 Steelers ranked fourth with 26.4 points per game, despite the trio of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell playing only 58 snaps together. That battery might push 1,000 snaps this season.

A lot has to go right for Pittsburgh to hit the 30 mark. The Steelers need No. 2 receiver production from the trio of Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Ladarius Green, who is currently nursing an ankle injury, must command defensive attention as a vertical threat to help replace Martavis Bryant. The offensive line looks poised to jump from good to dominant.

But this is a group that oozes confidence, which usually pays off over 16 games. Roethlisberger was a 68 percent passer last season while averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. He consistently tests defenses without throwing incompletions.

Roethlisberger said the loss of Bryant to a year-long suspension "hurts" because of the growth Bryant had showed and the chemistry the two developed. But this season's group has enough firepower.

"Obviously, we have playmakers all over the field," Bell said. "We use OTAs as our leverage point. We know where we were last year. We kind of have to pick up where we were last year and get better.

"Teams are going to pick up on things that we do, so we have to continue to detail everything."