Pittsburgh’s Run Game On Pace For Historic Lows

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game is bad. Historically bad. You surely knew the first part. You might not know the second, though I imagine you could’ve guessed as much.

As we noted in yesterday’s stats of the weird, they’re on pace to rush for just 1297 yards as a team this season. Should that hold serve, that would be their fewest in a year, excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season, since 1966. That’s three years before Chuck Noll or Joe Greene would arrive on scene to lay the foundational pieces of the 70s dynasty.

They’re also averaging just 3.54 yards per carry as a unit. Not only does that rank 25th in football, that would be their third worst mark since the 1970 merge only trailing 2013 (3.51) and 2003 (3.34).

If this was last year, hypothetically, maybe the Steelers’ offense could survive with the run game in its current state. After all, no team in the NFL threw as often as Pittsburgh. But that’s not tenable under Mason Rudolph, finding his way if I’m being generous in how I describe him, flat out struggling if I’m not, and you saw what happened when he was forced to throw the ball 40+ times. Four interceptions in a head-shaking performance, even understanding he was working with a skeleton crew. Hard to win with a young quarterback in general. A mission made much tougher without any semblance of a run game.

Who knows when James Conner will be back. He exited as soon as he returned against the Cleveland Browns, clearly bothered by that right shoulder sprain, and the team may shut him down until he’s fully operational. Assuming he’s not back for at least next Sunday’s game against Cincinnati, the Steelers aren’t left with much.

Jaylen Samuels hasn’t taken a step forward in Year Two. He lacks vision, power, only marginally more explosive than last year, and can’t pass protect. It’s obvious why NC State had him split out of the backfield so often, why the Combine viewed him as a tight end. You find out pretty quickly if running backs have “it” or not. Doesn’t look promising for him, at least, not in a feature back type role.

Trey Edmunds was called up to be a special teamer. Not to carry the ball as much as he has, asked to pass protect, or catch the ball. He’s the definition of a plodder who doesn’t always play to his size. Tony Brooks-James is largely an unknown getting his first taste of the NFL and doesn’t inspire much confidence going forward, even if his blend of size and speed makes him something of a unicorn on this roster.

As we wrote yesterday, getting Benny Snell back in the mix will be a boost. He’s the best runner on the team sans Conner and arguably offers the second most well-rounded skillset. Because if the offense wants to even attempt to get back on track, especially knowing the current injuries at receiver, they can’t be as one-dimensional as they have. Block it better. Run it better. And do it quickly. As the weathers turns cold, windy, and snowy, teams become defined by their ability to run the ball.

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