I think it’s safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers had a plan heading into Cleveland on offense, and that was to establish the run, after weeks of being unable to do so. The team had hardly found any success on the ground for the past couple of weeks entering Sunday’s game, but they knew that they had an opportunity against the Browns, who have statistically among the worst run defenses in the league.
Now, what leads me to this conclusion? Well, for starters, 38 of their 71 total offensive plays featured an extra tight end or running back, and only two of those featured Fitzgerald Toussaint. The rest of the personnel was either a fullback or additional tight ends.
Among those additional tight ends was Chris Hubbard, who saw more than a dozen snaps coming into the game as a tackle-eligible blocker. He saw time on 14 plays, two of which were wiped out by pre-snap penalties, and another by a hold on Jesse James. All the plays run were running plays, and the Steelers gained 59 yards on 11 carries, or about 5.4 yards per carry.
The Steelers even got fullback Roosevelt Nix five snaps during the game, four of which were running plays, although those four runs were not necessarily highly successful. David Johnson also logged a couple dozen snaps over the course of the game, which is a relatively high snap count based on his previous playing time.
James, meanwhile, only came off the field for one snap, but the most interesting thing that I noticed from this game is that they used him a handful of times at what I would describe as a fullback role, more evident and more frequently than they had at any other point earlier in the season. This is something fairly new that they were working with.
In contrast, we still have yet to see much of anything from Ladarius Green, as none of his snaps that he has played thus far in 2016 have come on running plays. The Steelers have evidently been working with him on a pitch count over the course of the last two weeks, and there has been a suggestion that that could change on Thursday, but with the short work week, that seems unlikely.
The Steelers’ strategy on the ground certainly did pay off, as Le’Veon Bell was able to have his best day on the ground of the season, rushing for a season-high 146 yards and 28 carries and one touchdown, averaging over five yards per carry. And he actually managed to do all of this without coming really even all that close to an explosive run.
That is, of course, the next step for the Steelers to figure out, because they have not been breaking long runs at all this year. The Steelers have just two rushes this season that have gone for 20 or more yards, and one of them was on a wide receiver end-around run that went for a 60-yard score.