The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will actively run the football more in 2019 in a statistically significant way.
Explanation: The Steelers were among the most imbalanced teams in the NFL with respect to the run-pass ratio in 2018, with two main factors—Le’Veon Bell’s absence and Randy Fichtner’s ascent to offensive coordinator—being the driving force behind that.
Quite frankly, it’s almost hard not to run the ball more, as in percentage. The Steelers threw the ball on over 67 percent of their offensive plays last year, just a hair behind Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, where Rodgers was reportedly audibling out of runs—though perhaps Ben Roethlisberger was doing some of that too.
Bell not being there was obviously a huge factor because the backfield suddenly got very inexperienced, but now James Conner has a full season under his belt, in addition to a Pro Bowl, and they are more comfortable with Jaylen Samuels as well. When you lose your starting running back by surprise, you’re obviously going to run the ball less than you planned to.
Aside from that, I think 2018 was an adjustment period for Fichtner, and perhaps a chance to establish himself in his new role. Perhaps he takes on more authority in his relationship with Roethlisberger this year.
Oh, that and Art Rooney II also mildly hinted at a desire for a bit more balance on offense. But that balance could be talking 62-38 instead of 67-33.
Here’s the reason why they won’t run the ball more than they did last year: what they did worked. They had one of their best offensive seasons in team history with outstanding proficiency in the red zone (when Roethlisberger wasn’t throwing interceptions).
Fichtner and Roethlisberger were very clear in talking about the short passing game, which includes the running back position, as an extension of the ground game, and Rooney was also supportive of this sentiment. As long as this continues to work, the offense will still be dominated by the passing game, and there’s nothing explicitly wrong with that.