During the Pittsburgh Steelers last four games the team’s offense has not only run the football poorly, the amount of runs has also been lacking. Because of that, there”s been a big push from media members who obviously only scout box scores as opposed to watching tape to partly blame the Steelers recent three-game losing streak on the offense’s inability to maintain a healthy run versus pass ratio.
This past week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner were both asked about the offenses lack of a productive running game as of late.
“One thing you have to understand from the outside world, you look at a run and pass, a lot of people are runners when you hand the ball to the running back, we look at our short screens, some of our short passes as run game alternative,” Roethlisberger said on Wednesday when asked if the Steelers offense needs a running game to be successful. “So, I think those numbers get a little skewed sometimes when you look at kind of what technically is a run and what technically is a pass. So, we need to have efficient plays regardless of what they are.”
Fichtner was also asked on Thursday during his weekly press conference if he has faith that the team’s running game can be efficient and like Roethlisberger, he pointed to the offense’s screen game as being an extension of the running game.
“Sure, but the run game is efficient based on what? How many times you actually hand it to him, or how many times that guy got yards in the game, got first downs? You know, we used 89 [tight end Vance McDonald] as a running back last week, and he caught a screen for like 30[yards],” Fichtner said. “Is that a screen or a run? I mean, that’s kind of how you have to look at it. I look at it as how do we utilize the five players we have in an attempt to get first downs to make touchdowns.
“You can call it a rush, you can call it a pass, but we have an actual run play, a draw play, that’s blocked the same way as a screen play. One time we flipped it, one time we didn’t. So, I don’t really look at it that way. I look at it as how do we move the chains, how do we put point on the board. Where we failed last week [against the Oakland Raiders] was we didn’t put enough points on the board.”
Fichtner was then informed that the Steelers offense currently runs the football less than any other team in the league and then asked if that’s completely irrelevant to him.
“No, I don’t even think about it,” Fichtner said.
He was then asked to confirm if he’s not worried any about establishing the run at all.
“We establish first downs and touchdowns and trying to score,” Fichtner said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. Sometimes it could be by the run, sometimes it isn’t.”
As Roethlisberger and Fichtner both stated this past week, the ultra-short pass and screen game is easily looked at as an extension of the running game. According to our own game charting, 47 of the completions that Roethlisberger has in the team’s last four games flew 1 or less yards from the original line of scrimmage. Those 47 completions averaged 6.36 yards.
While several in the media are pointing to the Steelers having a run/pass split of 42/58 during their five consecutive wins earlier in the season as playing a big part in those victories, what those same people aren’t telling you is that 47 of the 138 runs (4 were kneels) during that five-game winning streak included the Steelers being up 10 or more points. And 25 of those came in the big blowout win against the Carolina Panthers.
The proper narrative entering the Steelers Sunday home game against the Patriots should be that the offense needs to run the ball better when they do run it and not that the unit needs to run it more. Running more when you’re running poor just creates even more poor runs. In the Steelers last four games their offense registered 57 non-quarterback runs and only 21 (36.8%) of them were deemed successful ones. Additionally, just 7 of those 21 successful runs needed 4 or less yards to earn a positive result. That’s not very good at all.
The Steelers offense has moved the football very well for most of this season and especially in the team’s last four games. Even more points would have been scored if not for some very untimely turnovers inside the opponents red zone by Roethlisberger, running back James Conner and tight end Xavier Grimble. Oh and let’s not forget about Roethlisberger missing wide-open wide receiver Justin Hunter in the end zone a few games ago.
Sunday at Heinz Field the Steelers offense will face a New England Patriots defense that hasn’t played well against the run so far this season. With that noted, the Steelers might not have their top running back in Conner for the game due to an ankle injury. How much or little the Steelers offense runs the football on Sunday against the Patriots defense won’t be a determining factor. What will be a factor is if the Steelers runs can be more successful than they have been in the team’s last four games. If the Steelers have a more even run/pass split on Sunday, it will likely be because the offense was able to run the ball heavily later in the game due to there being a nice lead on the scoreboard.