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 make a very concerted effort to establish the run to help support Mason Rudolph in his first start, and will stick to it.
Explanation: Over the course of the first two weeks, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has talked about plans and intentions to establish the run that have never fully materialized. We saw more out of the running game, including actual looks with multiple tight ends, but even that didn’t amount to a full-on rushing attack.
They have to. Rudolph might come in with all the confidence in the world at the start of the game, but he’s facing an NFL-level defense for the first time that has actually scouted for him. And he did put a half a game’s worth of regular season film out there.
With James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell, the Steelers have running backs who can manage the run. Even if the numbers didn’t always look pretty last week, they were still generally successful in terms of play results. Situational conversions and things of that nature.
Perhaps most importantly, establishing the run sets up the play-action passing game, and that’s going to be a valuable and necessary tool for Rudolph. He had success out of it last week, including the 45-yard flea-flicker pass for his first NFL completion.
Establishing the run provides that you have some level of success doing it. If you’re going three-and-out because you can’t get anything going, abandonment is inevitable, and if a defense doesn’t have to sell out to stop the run, they’re not going to, so it’s not going to benefit the passing game that much as a result.
By and large, the running game hasn’t shown so far this season that it’s up to the challenge, and the 49ers are going to be preparing for the running game. They know the Steelers are starting a backup quarterback. They want to make him throw. That’s what they’re going to be coming into this game planning to do.