With the reality setting in that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be tasked with playing the next month or two without Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it is clear that the offense must change tactics in order to stay competitive, a fact that even head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged yesterday in his press conference.
Roethlisberger’s backup, Michael Vick, has only been with the team for about a month or so, and has a limited understanding and level of comfort with the offense, so part of that process will consist of curtailing the playbook to limit it to the plays that Vick is comfortable running when possible.
But the reality is, or at least should be, that the Steelers do not want him throwing the ball more than he has to, which means that the offense must find success on the ground. It is something that they have been able to do, more or less, through the first three games.
Through three games, the Steelers have already scored five rushing touchdowns—the first from Will Johnson, the next three from DeAngelo Williams, and finally one from Le’Veon Bell. Compared to last season, during which they did not record their fifth rushing touchdown until the last day of November in New Orleans, this is a sprinter’s pace.
The Steelers did pick up the pace at the end of last season, during which Bell scored five rushing touchdowns in December, and so far, the offense has seemingly been able to pick up where they left off in that regard, which is a very welcome sign.
The team has managed to run pretty well overall, however, totaling 286 yards on 66 carries for an average of 4.33 yards per carry when the running backs run the ball. That includes Johnson’s four carries for seven total yards.
During the first two games, which were started by Williams due to Bell’s suspension, the new Steelers back rushed 41 times for 204 yards, averaging just under five yards per rush. He had just one carry for two yards in the last game, however, due to Bell’s return.
Bell rushed the ball 19 times in his return, but found some tough sledding, as he was only able to gain 62 yards, a total that included four plays for negative yardage against the Rams’ powerful defensive front four, which certainly has the potential to be dominant when they are playing to their potential.
Although the Steelers have only accumulated two explosive plays thus far in the running game, including one from Williams in the season opener and one from Bell on Sunday, they have managed 10 runs of double digits, which on 66 rushes is a nice average.
Compare that to a total of seven negative runs on the year to date when a running back is carrying the ball, a number that excludes ‘runs’ from quarterbacks. Only six more plays went for zero yards, two of which came from Johnson.
The Steelers have a running game that can shoulder much of the offensive load with Roethlisberger out. It will be up to Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to maximize the running backs’ effectiveness during this span.