During his annual post-season question and answer session with the local media, Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II indicated that he’d like to see the team’s offense run the ball better in 2020 than the unit did in 2019. On Wednesday, Rooney once again indicated that he’d like to see the offense have a better running game in 2020 when asked by a listener during a Steelers Nation Unite conference call with fans if having one is still important in today’s NFL.
“Yeah, I really do, and you know, this past season, particularly the post season, some of the teams that ran the ball did pretty darn good,” Rooney said. “And so, you know, I think you can still be a team that runs the ball and you know the old saying, ‘if you run the ball and play good defense, you’re going to be in most games’ and we saw that with a number of teams this past season.
“And we certainly want to be a team that can run the ball effectively and obviously be balanced. We have a quarterback in Ben [Roethlisberger] that can throw any pass and get the ball all over the field and so we think in this day and age you need to be balanced and hopefully we can get back to being that in the coming season.”
Obviously, Rooney is mainly pointing to teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans as being the ones that ran the football well during the playoffs while also playing a lot of good defense. Both teams, however, were ultimately beaten by the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs and mostly thanks to the play of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Steelers running game in 2019 was virtually non-existent and to some degree, so was the passing game, if we’re really being honest. The Steelers offense couldn’t consistently move the football this past season and relied way too much on the defense providing them great field position, or scores. Not only did the offense not have starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for nearly the entire 2019 season due to injury, the other two key players on that unit, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, both missed a considerable amount of games due to ailments.
While two of the team’s offensive rookies, wide receiver Diontae Johnson and running back Benny Snell Jr., both had commendable first seasons in the NFL, the lack of quality and consistent quarterback play out of the team’s two backups, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, throughout the season was way too much to overcome.
Having a healthy Roethlisberger, Conner and Smith-Schuster all back in 2020 should help the Steelers offense improve overall. That said, it would be hard for that unit to be any worse than they were in 2019. A severely improved running game in 2020 would obviously put less stress on Roethlisberger as the last thing the team needs is for him to have to throw for another 5,000 yards like he had to do a few seasons ago.
Even if Conner does return to his 2018 form in 2020, the team can’t expect him to carry the full load for a full season at this point due to his injury history. Additionally, as good as Snell was at points during his rookie season, he’s still a virtual unknown commodity as he heads into his second season.
Will the Steelers spend yet another draft pick this year on a running back to help fortify the depth chart at that position? Remember, the team could also use another tight end via the draft this year as well and it’s also hard seeing them not drafting yet another wide receiver at some point. Oh, another interior offensive lineman figures to be in this year’s draft card as well and currently the team is expected to have just six selections in total and just one within the first 100.
Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner certainly has his work cut out for him this offseason as do the rest of the offensive positional coaches, which now includes a new quarterbacks coach in the form of Matt Canada. Rooney already saying publicly a few times this offseason that he’d like to see the offense run the football better in 2020 is not an accident. That’s what he wants to see so Fichtner and company better find a way to make that happen. If they can successfully follow Rooney’s offseason directive and thus drastically improve the running game, the team should be able to make a deep playoff run in 2020 as the defense figures to be just as good as they were in 2019, if not better.