The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Is the running game how where it should be, or were the Ravens just shorthanded?
The Steelers had clearly their best performance on offense—particularly on the ground—of the young season on Sunday in Baltimore, a place in which they have historically struggled. In fact, Sunday’s win featured the largest margin of victory they’ve ever had against the Ravens as the away team.
The Steelers have since talked openly about the fact that they came into the game with the intention of featuring Le’Veon Bell and the running game, and they certainly did that, with the running back having more carries on his own than Ben Roethlisberger had pass attempts, and there were another six runs added by others as well.
But here is the question to be answered: how much of their 173-yard rushing performance can be attributed to week-by-week improvement, and how much of it can be lain directly at the feet of the Ravens’ wounded defensive line, down two started in Brent Urban—on injured reserve—and Brandon Williams?
After all, it’s not like they averaged six yards per carry or anything. Taking out the kneel at the end of the game, the Steelers averaged 4.24 yards per carry, and they also had five carries that went for negative yards, three by Bell, which has only happened a handful of times in his career, last against Dallas in 2016.
There are still issues, I think, with both the blocking and the running, but they are manageable—I hope. Baltimore being without two of their three starting linemen is hard to dismiss. But I do expect them to run the ball well at home against the Jaguars, who are averaging 5.7 yards per rush so far.
Confidence breeds confidence, though. A good taste of that success on the ground is going to bode well, and will help to produce its own successes. I don’t know if the running game is quite where it should be, but if it’s not, it is coming along.