The Road To The Division Title Is On The Ground

Yesterday, Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviewwriter Joe Starkey took it to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their anemic running game over recent years, making note that ‘getting the running game going’ has been a recurring topic of conversation every offseason for years, yet there remains little in the way of improvement.

Starkey glimpsed back at a blog from last year written by fellow Tribune writer Mark Kaboly, in which he wrote that the Steelers’ 1500-some-odd rushing yards during the 2012 season was the second-fewest in a 16-game season in team history.

The Steelers only rushed for 1383 yards last season, and you can’t blame it all on a pass-happy offense when the team as a whole averaged just 3.5 yards per rush.

That total is the lowest since 1978 for the Steelers, when the 16-game schedule was first adopted. In fact, according to Starkey, it’s the lowest total since 1966.

He also writes that the 2013 Steelers were just one of two teams since 1969 to average 3.5 yards per carry or less, and that was the other was the ‘Tommy Gun’ offense of 2003, when Jerome Bettis was sharing the backfield with Amos Zeroue.

In case you were wondering, Zeroue rushed for 433 yards on 132 carries that year for a dismal 3.3 yards per carry. Bettis himself also rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry, totaling 811 yards on 246 carries, though he did have seven touchdowns.

That year simply wasn’t very good all around when it comes to offensive production. Tommy Maddox may have thrown 519 passes, but he did so for just 3414 yards, averaging a mediocre 6.6 yards per pass attempt. His 18 touchdown passes was just one more than the number of interceptions that he threw.

Of course, the Steelers went on to draft Ben Roethlisberger during the 2004 draft, so it all worked out for the best in the end.

Starkey makes the case that the Steelers need to run the ball because they want to run the football. Not only has it been dictated by ownership; not only has it been voiced from every corner of the organization this season; it’s written plain as day throughout the script that is the 2014 offseason thus far.

The Steelers dipped into free agency to sign LeGarrette Blount to complement their promising second-year back, Le’Veon Bell. They fired their offensive line coach and replaced him with one of the best in the business in Mike Munchak.

The team is also getting All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey back. He and fellow former first-round pick, guard David DeCastro, have next to no meaningful playing experience together despite the less experienced of the two entering his third season.

Healthy tight ends don’t hurt, either. Over the last three games of the season, with Matt Spaeth back up to speed, the Steelers ran for 377 yards, and actually ran the ball more than they threw it, Starkey points out.

Last, but not least, he writes that the champions of the division for the last four years has been the team that best runs the ball. Eight of the 12 seasons of the division’s existence have been won by the best running team in the division. No wonder they’re so eager to get the ball rolling on the ground game.

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