The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game experience a midseason deluge, during which they found it difficult to pick up efficient chunks of yardage per carry. Whether they abandoned the run or continued to stick with it, the ground game was not producing, although it must be admitted that the run game in those instances was going up against quality run defenses.
The team put greater emphasis on the run game over the course of the past two games, however, not just in terms of the plays being called, but also in the personnel being used, and there is understandably clear evidence in the end results that this emphasis yielded positive results.
But one of the big reasons, I think, that the running game has been better the past two weeks, not just because of the opponent, has been because right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been playing better as well. Gilbert, of course, has been going through yet another injury-riddled season, dealing with a shoulder injury since the preseason. He missed three games in the middle of the season with a foot injury.
I believe that he is still working his way back into form, and it is probably not purely a coincidence that his first couple of games back have resulted in some of the team’s worst results on the ground. After missing time, however, and now getting his legs back under him, he is reasserting himself and playing well, and it has been helping to make a difference, both in pass protection and in the running game.
It should be noted that a lot of the Steelers’ yardage on the ground over the course of the past two weeks has actually come from around the edge, either around left or right tackle or off of either edge. In that span, on runs that are designated as having been run off right tackle or right end, the Steelers are averaging better than five yards per carry, including three rushes that have gone for double figures, though, amazingly, they have not broken a long run in quite a while. Perhaps that is coming up soon.
While the offense did not necessarily perform poorly with Chris Hubbard in the lineup for three games as an injury replacement starter for Gilbert—in fact, I have been highly complimentary about his performance filling in—his work in the passing game was clearly better than his work on the ground.
Even though the past two games have come against teams with weak rushing defenses, I still think that it would be fair to say that it represents a beginning of a turning of the corner. Not only is Gilbert back into form, they also finally have their stable of tight ends they have been looking for all year.
The Giants defense is going to pose a significant challenge for the Steelers’ newfound running game, but if they can keep up the momentum they have built, they could at least potentially keep themselves in a two-dimensional offensive game plan that allows them to run the ball.