The Pittsburgh Steelers have only won two of the six games in which they have played so far during the 2019 season. Sunday’s featured their second-lowest yardage total of the season so far, but included their best rushing performance overall, producing over 100 yards on the ground as a team for the first time all year. In fact, their 132 yards is 41 yards better than their next-best effort, an 81-yard effort in Week Two against the Seattle Seahawks.
Much of that positive rushing performance against the Los Angeles Chargers on the road—I say on the road, and not in an away game, because the crowd was mostly fans—actually came not from their Pro Bowl starter in James Conner, but rather rookie fourth-round draft pick Benny Snell, who picked up 75 yards on 17 carries, just under half of which (a good ratio) resulted in ‘successful’ plays for the offense.
And in spite of the fact that he had just one catch all game for a whopping seven yards—it’s hopefully the first and only time that Donte Moncrief will outproduce him—JuJu Smith-Schuster was ecstatic about what he saw from the offense.
“You saw this last game, we dominated in the run game”, he told reporters in the locker room on Tuesday, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That was amazing. I was like, ‘Coach, keep running the ball. It works. Get the ball to our running backs because they’re making plays for us’”.
The Steelers ran 56 offensive plays on the night. 36 of them were runs. In addition to the 17 by Snell, Conner also rushed 16 times. Devlin Hodges technically had three rushes as well, but one was a kneeldown at the end of the game.
In addition to the 33 rushing attempts for their two running backs, they were also the recipient of eight of Hodges’ 20 passing attempts, and eight of his 15 completions. My handy calculator tells me that means the running backs accounted for over half of his completed passes. They also combined for 92 of his 132 passing yards, and his lone touchdown pass.
In other words, the running backs dominated this offensive effort, accounting for 210 of the Steelers’ 256 total yards of offense, which is astonishing. Smith-Schuster had seven yards. Moncrief had 11. Diontae Johnson had 14. Vance McDonald and Nick Vannett each had five. Ryan Switzer had his obligatory minus-two, and Hodges had eight rushing yards.
That’s it. That was the entirety of the rest of their offensive yardage on the night.
This isn’t how the season was supposed to go. Even with the loss of Antonio Brown, this was still supposed to be one of the very most prolific passing offenses in the NFL. Circumstances are dictating otherwise, and if they can build and sustain success on the ground, they will have no choice but to do it.
Their number one wide receiver is on board. That counts for something.