If there is one thing that national media reporters love asking the Pittsburgh Steelers about, it’s about ‘drama’ and what’s going on with former players. But the local media has its fetish areas as well, and one of them is the obsession over the notion of a run-pass balance.
Reporters have tried to approach the topic from a number of different directions seeking to get the responses they’re looking for, but have almost universally been shot down, basically hoping for somebody to say that they’re going to run the ball more. They probably will, just by sheer odds, but that’s not the point.
I can’t help but feel some of that thinking was beneath the surface when Ben Roethlisberger was asked yesterday about how they were able to surprise the New England Patriots last season with their aggressive running approach with Jaylen Samuels and if he felt a shift back to more run-oriented football was something he could foresee. His response from the locker room, via the team’s website:
I think having the ability to change is huge. Maybe not for a whole season, but for a game or for a little run, when teams are expecting one thing and you can just completely flip the script and become dominant in another phase of the game, I think that speaks volumes of the coaching and playing and players buying into it. I don’t know if the lay of the league flips and goes back to that at some point, I don’t foresee it anytime soon. I know there’s a lot of teams trying to go to a more running quarterback and RPO thing. I know Baltimore’s been talking about it. But if your guy gets beat up, it’s gonna be hard to stay on the field for too long,
Last season, the Steelers have the second-most lopsided run-pass ratio in the league, throwing nearly 700 passes combined. Roethlisberger himself threw 675, the most in the league, which helped him throw for 5129 yards and 34 touchdowns, both franchise record and the former also leading the NFL last season.
One of the reasons that we saw that imbalance, however, was simply for the fact that the team wasn’t fully prepared to not have Le’Veon Bell. They expected him to show up, and when he didn’t, they had to rely on a relatively untested backfield.
That backfield, however, has been tested now, and we should see a more prominent and more consistent performance form the likes of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels in 2019. Maybe against certain opponents they’ll go into it planning to focus on the run, but they also have to be prepared to adapt based on in-game circumstances.