Let’s talk running game, shall we? I know that it’s on a lot of people’s minds whenever the approach of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense in 2019 is brought up. Pittsburgh had one of the most extremely imbalanced run-pass ratios in 2018 if you focus on pure runs versus all throws. Seemingly everybody wants to change that.
Even offensive coordinator Randy Ficthner told Tim Benz on his Breakfast With Benz podcast that “we would love to be more balanced, no doubt”. “A lot of times you work to get your playmakers the ball”, he added. “It’s still defining roles and who all those playmakers are going to be. If you’re just going from last year alone, James would at the top of some of those lists. So you better get him the ball”.
That would be James Conner, who scored 13 touchdown in 13 games last season in his second year, later being voted into the Pro Bowl. Conner is one of their biggest offensive talents, and that dictates being used, but there is also more comfort in the depth chart with Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, Jr. than perhaps there has been for a while.
Still, Fichtner was quick to defend his and the offense’s philosophy, which uses the short passing game as an extension of the run game, something that he made very clear, and which Benz didn’t seem to take too kindly to, addressing it in monologue after running the interview.
“If you watch some of the things we do, you don’t have to hand the ball to count it as a run”, he second-year offensive coordinator said. “If we throw a ball that’s on the line of scrimmage, that’s a run. I don’t care if it’s forward or backwards. It’s a run in our game, and it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks”.
It’s also important to note that the Steelers’ success rate on short passes was higher by a fairly significant margin than was their successful play rate when running the football. A key part of running the ball more to create more balance is to run the ball better to justify it.
Fichtner argued that the team was more balanced traditionally when Conner was healthy, but when he was hurt, or needed a rest, they didn’t have that comfort in the group yet. He talked about how they used four- and five-receiver sets as a way to give him a breather rather than use a Stevan Ridley. “That personnel group alone will diminish the amount of runs you’ll do”, he said.
“Not to mention, with a $100 million quarterback, we can’t be afraid to throw it, and sometimes you have to win it that way”, he concluded, I can only assume with a mic drop.