For the first time since the season opener, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get the ground game going on Sunday, and unsurprisingly, a big portion of their ability to do that was simply actually running the ball. Outside of going heavy on the run while nursing a lead late in Week Three, the team has been heavily geared toward the pass, so far with 110 rushes against 224 passing plays, including nine that resulted in sacks.
But the running game was an early and recurring focus on Sunday behind James Conner, who had over 20 carries and rushed for over 100 yards with two scores on the ground. And the offensive line couldn’t have been happier about it.
“We caught a good vibe on what was being called”, left guard Ramon Foster told the team’s website about the rushing calls. “We executed up front and the calls just coming in as far as the run. When you have that going and you have the confidence of the offensive coordinator and your offensive line coach, it’s good to continue to keep it going”.
It started right from the opening drive. On eight plays, the Steelers traversed 78 yards right into the end zone. Conner was responsible for 72 of those yards, 37 of which came on the ground, highlighted by a 30-yard dash, and culminating with an aesthetically pleasing one-yard leaping score over a pile at the line of scrimmage.
Foster talked about the philosophy of running the football, which is a fading trend in the NFL today. He explained that it takes commitment, both physically and mentally, in order for it to be most effective. “It has to be a mindset”, he said. “It’s going to start getting cold. Certain teams want to hold on to the ball”.
He also explained that it is an asset to the other half, the defense. When you are able to run the ball, “you can give them a breather, they come out fresh”, he said. “You saw how they played this week when they had an opportunity to get some rest. We kept them off the field. It was key for us to stay on. It’s getting to the point of the season where we have to be a team that holds onto the ball and runs it consistently”.
Despite all that, the Steelers did actually lose the time of possession by nearly two minutes, owning the ball for 29:08. A defensive touchdown that costs the offense a drive can be offered as a partial explanation for that discrepancy, though the Falcons had five possessions that lasted four minutes or more.