Teams with franchise quarterbacks tend to concern themselves with the run game and having ‘balance’ of the offensive side of the ball, which means to have a healthy ratio of run plays to pass plays. Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL in pass attempts and had the second-most imbalanced run-pass ratio in the league.
That was with Ben Roethlisberger, however, and it seems that the team is singing a slightly different tune about the running game. When asked about it last year, they would offer answers that were a bit more dismissive, but now they’re talking about it.
Even since Roethlisberger went down, the Steelers still haven’t always been able to create that healthy balance of runs and passed, outside of the Los Angeles Chargers game. That was largely because they were always stuck on third down and unable to convert.
“You know, if you don’t get a lot of reps at it because you’re not converting third downs, then all of a sudden you look up and you’ve had the ball six plays when you’ve only run it twice, maybe three times”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters yesterday, via a transcript from the team’s website. “That’s probably not enough to say you can or can’t run it that day”, he went on.” So, it’s always going to be about opportunity and touches, for a running back as well. They need them. James [Conner] deserves them. Our other running backs in those situations had been positive with the ball in their hands too. We’ve got to run the football. Our group knows that”.
While he did allow earlier in his answer that, yes, he still considers those short passes a part of the run game, the extent to which he expressed the importance of the ability to get things going on the ground seems somewhat significant.
Most notable is the fact that they were able to convert on third down four times in their last game on the ground. This helped them sustain drives, and control the clock, keeping the ball out of the hands of Philip Rivers for long periods of time, without even running an excessive number of plays.
To say that Conner deserves the opportunity to run the ball is interesting as well, though perhaps he’s also including those short passes in that description. Conner does lead the team with 26 receptions on just 27 targets.
I think at least this much is clear, which is, if Fichtner has his offense running the way that it should, they would be consistently running the ball more frequently than they have. It might not look like the game in Los Angeles, but a 45-55 run-pass split is reasonable for sure. But you have to be able to have success with it, first, and they’re only just showing signs of life on that front.