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Steelers Ground Game Grounded In Frequency And Efficiency

Over the past few weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly haven’t had much trouble slinging the ball through the air. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for over 250 yards in each of the last four games—including 340 in the last three, peaking at 522.

The Steelers have scored 16 touchdowns on offense in that span. 15 of them have been passes thrown by Roethlisberger. The other was a pass thrown by Antonio Brown. Which raises the question—what’s happened to the running game?

The team hasn’t punched the ball in on the ground since Week Three, in fact. Starting running back Le’Veon Bell has more touchdowns as a receiver than as a runner, two to one, and his one rushing touchdown took place in the season opener. His backup, LeGarrette Blount, has two.

The passing to rushing touchdown ratio for this Steelers offense, in fact, is all the way up to 8:1, with Roethlisberger’s 23 touchdown passes (plus Brown’s) overshadowing the three rushing touchdowns combined from Bell and Blount.

Over the last two weeks combined, the Steelers have only 91 rushing yards on 42 carries, translating to an obviously abysmal 2.17 yards per carry. While they put up 117 yards a few weeks back, it took them 32 carries, carrying just 3.7 yards per, and that number was aided by a few long runs in garbage time.

While it’s true that the offense has largely shifted its focus even more heavily to the passing game—enabled by Bell’s receiving skills, who has 27 receptions in just the last four games and a  team-record 55 on the season—it seems the rushing threat is not only becoming less frequent, but also less effective.

Bell has 12 or fewer carries in three of the past four games, and came up shorter than 60 yards on the ground as a result. He has been under four yards per carry for the past three weeks. Blount, meanwhile, has posted a yards per carry figure of under 4.0 in each of the past six games. He had five carries on Sunday and produced a total of zero yards.

In fact, Blount has been under 4.0 yards per carry in eight of his 10 games with the Steelers, with one major outlier coming in that Week Three game in which he rushed for 118 yards on 10 carries. He followed it up with 6.3 yards per carries on four rushes the following week, but he’s also been under three yards per rush in a game five times as well, including in three of the past four games.

The Steelers are running the ball less than 40 percent of the time. That’s certainly not abnormal by any means for a team with a franchise quarterback. But the gradual decline of the success that they have been able to achieve on the ground in recent weeks does give some pause, especially in light of the success that Bell found on the ground early on this season.

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