The Pittsburgh Steelers media’s favorite pastime may well be asking players and coaches if the team plans to run the ball more this year. They try to find new and creative ways to bring up the topic, and they even did so numerous times just yesterday, approaching the question from different angles to at least offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and running back James Conner.
One reporter framed the question that he asked Conner as saying that some coaches have said that they would like to run the ball more. Frankly, I’m not even sure if that’s really what anybody on the staff has said at any point of the offseason in any context. He noted Ben Roethlisberger as a prolific passer and questioned if they can manage to both run and pass effectively and voluminously.
“I think we can do both”, Conner told reporters. “Obviously we have Ben Roethlisberger, so we’re going to be able to pass the ball, and it’s our job in the running back room to make the run game go. We’ll see how the gameplan goes and the flow of the games, but I think we can do both”.
The Steelers had the second-most imbalanced offense last season from the perspective of the run-pass ratio, as they dropped back to pass over 700 times (including sacks), yet recorded only 345 carries. They attempted over 100 more passes than their opponents did against them.
Running more frequently and running more efficiently don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, however, and what the Steelers need to prioritize is running better, particularly on early downs, which will frankly give them more second- and third-down carries. Their overall rushing numbers look good—4.2 yards per carry with 16 scores—but look deeper and you see the faults.
The team is hoping that with jumps in performance from both Conner and second-year Jaylen Samuels, they will be able to get more consistency from a carry-to-carry basis out of the backfield, but also understanding that they have a stable of runners with diverse skillsets, both within themselves and among themselves.
“We’ve just got to go play our game and adapt”, Conner said, regarding the possibility of opponents trying to take away a dimension of their gameplan. “If they try to take something away, we’ve got to have an answer with something else”.
The Steelers are more experienced and battle-tested in certain areas of the roster this year than they were a year ago, and that is no more evident than in the backfield, so that difference from one season to the next should show up on the field relative to how they are able to improvise based on what the defense is trying to do. Will they be running the ball more? That depends both on show the defense shows and how the running game goes.