Is it time for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense to turn its focus once again to the run game?
This would be an easier sell if said run game were more effective through the first five games of the season, of course. Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry so far on 102 carries, gaining 371 yards. In spite of the fact that he is on pace for 326 carries, he is not getting the bang for his buck, actually on pace for under 1200 yards, fewer than what he managed in only 12 games last season.
But the Steelers’ passing game—and specifically the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—is not right now something that can thrive on its own, based on what we have seen, as unfortunate an observation as that may be.
It is the rookie, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who actually seems to be developing into arguably the second-most trustworthy option for the aging quarterback, behind of course Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster finished yesterday’s game with four receptions for 58 yards, both career-highs, including a 21-yarder and a 14-yard completion on second and 11.
This was supposed to be the most talented group of wide receiver that Roethlisberger has ever played with, including Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, and Darrius Heyward-Bey also in the mix, but they have not been consistently there for them, nor has he been able to consistently deliver them the football.
The issue with the passing game was seemingly the fact that Roethlisberger had run out of reliable targets outside of Brown. Bryant was suspended, Markus Wheaton was on injured reserve, and Sammie Coates busted his hand, so he found himself frequently targeting the likes of Cobi Hamilton.
Enough had become enough, and in the wake of a four-game losing skid, the offense turned the ball over to Bell and the running game for the final 10 games of the year, including the playoffs, until he went down with an injured groin.
But up to that point, the offense had clearly run through Bell as the focal point—not infrequently having more carries than Roethlisberger had completed passes, and sometimes even passes attempted—as the Steelers ran themselves back into relevance, rattling off nine consecutive victories.
The Steelers certainly should not regress into a run-first offense, by any means. After all, the running game has done little to justify that sort of vote of confidence. But until the passing game actually shows that it can be more reliable as a proactive strategy, then it might be wise to put greater emphasis on the ground, which could include the usage of additional running backs.