The running game on Sunday was, uh, not good. And the reason for that was pretty simple: the run blocking. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t run the ball very much, but when they did, there was usually at least one key error or failure of execution that resulted in an unsuccessful play.
James Conner carried the ball just eight times in the game, but only two of those runs were successful, and that included a one-yard touchdown run that was mostly about what he did on the play rather than his blockers. So let’s take a look at some of these plays and what happened on them.
Early in the game, on Conner’s first carry, he lost three yards when he was pummeled by Chris Jones in the backfield. What happened? Well, he was left unaccounted for. There was no late pre-snap shift from the defensive line. Clearly either the center or right guard ought to have picked him up. Instead, he was unabated to the running back.
Up next, we have a gain of three yards on first and 10, another unsuccessful play. On this occasion, there would have been a hole through the B Gap on the left side, but Ramon Foster was slow to get off his chip block to pick up the linebacker, who had leverage into the hole. Going right was no option for Conner with another defender coming in that B.J. Finney could not get to—again, working off a chip block.
The story remained the same in the third quarter, another three-yard run on first and 10. Foster was faster off his chip this time, but the linebacker was able to evade the big left guard. Conner tried to hit the hole anyway and was chased down from behind.
A couple of plays later, he got the ball again on first and 10, this time managing only a yard. Finney was supposed to work to the second level to pick up the linebacker, but failing to do so, the running back had to turn to the other side of the field. Aleandro Villanueva expected to be blocking on the back side of the run, so he actually positioned himself well for where the play was supposed to go.
Even the touchdown was a chore for the running back. Behind his fullback and Finney pulling, this could have been a walk-in, but the second level flowed through an opening and nearly made the stop before the goal line.
The Steelers have certainly seen better days in the run-blocking department than they did on Sunday. Several of those days in recent years actually came against this Chiefs defense. Unfortunately, they beat themselves a number of times, and that has to change before Monday night.