When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s not just the media, but also the fanbase that has an obsession with ‘establishing the run’, even as the vast majority of the NFL has turned in the opposite direction—and generally, with a good deal of success.
The team only attempted 345 rushes, for example, during the 2018 season, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for over 5100 yards and with 34 touchdowns. But they still scored 16 times on the ground, which was in the top 10 in the NFL, and rushed for 4.2 yards per attempt.
They ran more last year, but for about the same yardage, and at half a year less per attempt, with only seven touchdowns on the ground. It was just bad all around, and it could be attributed to a number of factors. But David DeCastro didn’t want to focus on that. He believes the true root of the problem was the absence of a true balance in the passing game.
“You guys love talking about the running game like it’s the starting point of the offense. I just always try to tell you guys; it is a combination”, he told one reporter earlier this week who was eager to ask him about getting the run game going in 2020.
“You can’t have a good running game without a good passing game without an honest, balanced offense”, he added. “If they can just stack the box and run a safety down and you can’t throw over the top or you can’t keep them honest, then it is easier to stop the run. We just weren’t good at all. So, that running game is obviously going to be a tough spot that they can just—it wasn’t even just the run game, just overall not being good”.
So if you ask the offensive line what the most important thing is to improve the run game this year, it will be to get Roethlisberger and the passing game back to where it needs to be. Maybe they won’t have a lot of volume in terms of carries, but when they do run, they should be able to do so more efficiently, which is much more important.
Last season, James Conner, limited to 10 games, rushed for just 464 yards on 116 attempts, with four scores. Rookie Benny Snell added 426 yards and two more touchdowns on 108 attempts, while Jaylen Samuels’ 66 rushes yielded 175 yards and one score. The late addition of Kerrith Whyte chipped in 122 more, while Trey Edmunds had 92. Tony Brooks-James’ seven yards on eight carries wasn’t particularly helpful.
But Conner missed extended time due to injury. Both Snell and Samuels had to have their knees cleaned out during the year. Since the beginning of the offseason, they added Anthony McFarland via the draft, and more recently signed veteran Wendell Smallwood.
The running back room, and the offensive line, can do many things better in the running game than they did last season. But perhaps the biggest difference-maker for the ground game will be the threat of the aerial assault that was absent a year ago.