The Pittsburgh Steelers offense entered Sunday’s game against the Bills at the absolute bottom of the league, having recorded just two explosive runs over the course of the first 12 games of the season. Le’Veon Bell capped off his season debut with a 44-yard run toward the end of a blowout win. Darrius Heyward-Bey also scored on a 60-yard end-around toward the middle of the season.
Every other team in the league had at least three such runs. Some of the better running teams, of course, had several. Coincidentally, the Bills entered the game with a commanding lead in terms of explosive runs, but the Steelers managed to hold them without one for the game. Their 19 explosive runs, however, is still six more than the next-most.
The Steelers are still miles away from the lead in that category, but they did manage to double their season total of explosive runs on Sunday, as Bell managed to rip off a pair of them en route to his historic day, during which he rushed for 236 yards on 38 carries.
This has me wondering if the Steelers have finally gotten back on track in the ground game with respect to being able to turn modest gains into big ones, which is a component of the offense that has been a virtual non-presence this season—and which was not the case in the past two years.
During the 15 season—with Bell only playing in six games, mind you—the Steelers still managed to record 15 explosive runs, nearly one per game, including three runs that went for at least 40 yards. That was the third-most of all teams in the league.
Even in 2014, the Steelers recorded nine explosive runs, which was toward the middle of the pack. Of course, they were also in the middle of the pack in terms of rushing attempts per game.
As it currently stands, the Steelers are still toward the very bottom of the league when it comes to ripping off explosive runs. When factoring in rushing attempts per game, Pittsburgh ranks 30th—as opposed to 32nd, that is—in the league, behind only the Buccaneers and the Broncos.
So can the Steelers replenish this part of their offense that has been missing for the majority of the season? Was the game against the Bills a renewed demonstration of what they are capable of doing, or was it just a one-off?
And it’s not just about a random benchmark of “explosive plays” that has been absent from the offense, just to be clear, setting an arbitrary division at 20-yard plays. If we scale it down to 15-yard runs, the Steelers have just 11 of those, and three came against the Bills.
Only seven of them in total have come from Bell, including the three from the Bills game, which just goes to show how much work he has put in to grinding out yardage on every single play to still manage to average about 4.8 yards per rush.