As a whole, Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had a very good second season in the NFL in 2018, which was his first as a full-time starter. Not only did Conner rush for 973 yards on 215 carries last season, he also had 12 touchdowns on the ground. Conner even had nine runs of 20 yards or longer last season. However, those impressive rushing stats aside, Conner and the rest of the Steelers offense, must do a better job of running the football in 2019 and especially on first downs and early in games.
As you can see in the table of data below, as a team, the Steelers only managed a first and 10 or less rushing success rate of 48.98% last season. That success rate is based on a successful run being deemed as one that gained 40% or more of the yards needed on first down. To reiterate, that rates below that I have posted are only based on first down runs where 10 or less yards were needed. That 48.98% success rate last season ranked the Steelers 16th overall and thus right in the middle of the NFL. On first down runs needing exactly 10 yards, the Steelers run success rate was 48.57%.
Drilling down the Steelers first and 10 or less success rates even further reveals just how poor the team’s offense ran in the first quarter of games last season. In total, the Steelers attempted to run on first and 10 or less in the first quarter of games 47 times last season with only 19 of those runs being deemed successful ones. That’s a lowly 40.4% success rate and there were just three other teams with lower rates than that last season. Conner’s such runs were even worse as just 12 of his 33 total first and 10 or less first quarter runs last season were successful ones. 2 of those 12 successful runs required Conner needing just 1 yard for it to be successful and both were short touchdowns runs you can see below.
Despite the belief of several analysts and fans, running more, or having a better run/pass balance, in 2019 isn’t that big of a deal and specifically when it comes to the Steelers. However, what the offense does need to do a better job of in 2019 is increasing their run success rates across the board and especially on first downs, and even more especially in the first quarter or first halves of games.