It seems to be something of an annual tradition to hear from Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II that he would like to see the team run the football more consistently. Note that he does not typically say that the feels the team should run more frequently, but rather to run the ball with greater success.
The 2019 season would certainly fall under the category of one in which you would have liked to have seen the team run the ball better. Yet with so many variables at play, particularly from a health standpoint, it can be difficult to give an appropriate assessment, and that is essentially what Rooney conveyed in speaking to a select group of local reporters yesterday.
“It is hard to analyze 2019 from the standpoint that we did have a lot of injuries and things”, Bob Labriola via the team’s website quoted him as saying. “We have talked about it before – I would like to see us be a team that can be more consistent running the football. I think that has to be a part of the game”.
All three of the Steelers’ running backs who were on the 53-man roster at the start of the season suffered a significant injury of some description that caused them to miss time. James Conner suffered a series of injuries over the course of the year, and he would miss the vast majority of the time remaining from their Week Eight game on. He rushed for 145 yards, but suffered a shoulder injury that lingers for the rest of the season.
In addition to Conner, both Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell suffered knee injuries that required minor in-season cleanup procedures. Because of the bye week, Samuels missed minimal time, but Snell missed several games. He essentially served as the team’s lead runner—though not necessarily the running back most often on the field—late in the year.
Rooney is hoping to see what the running game would look like during a season in which the position is actually healthy and builds some cohesion. He observes some of the better teams in the league this past year, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, and how they were able to get ahead on the ground in 2019.
“I think we’ve seen in these playoffs that you can run the ball and be successful, no question about it”, Rooney acknowledged. “On the other hand, there are teams that are passing the ball pretty well, too, so I’m not going to jump to too many conclusions about what we’re seeing in these playoffs. It’s an important component, I think, in terms of being able to play at the level we want to play in a place like Pittsburgh. I think running the ball is a factor – it should be”.
The key to volume running, I will remind, is in efficient running. If you can run the ball well enough, frequently enough, then you can run the ball more regularly. The reason teams like the Ravens and 49ers have been able to run extensively is because they have crafted running games that they are able to execute at a high level. That is an area in which the Steelers certainly have work to do.