Through the first three games of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been both a sufficient and efficient rushing team. While they have the ninth-most rushing attempts, which also factors in kneeldowns, they have the 10th-most yards for the 10th-most yards per carry.
To put that data into more meaningful numbers, they have recorded 90 rushing attempts for 419 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, with two rushing touchdowns. If you remove Ben Roethlisberger’s 11 ‘rushing’ attempts, most of which are kneeldowns, for 11 yards, you have 79 rushing attempts for 408 yards, or 5.2 yards per carry. That doesn’t mean everybody’s happy.
“I think we can do a lot better running the football”, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva told reporters, via Teresa Varley of the team’s website, earlier this week after the Steelers recorded 169 rushing yards against the Houston Texans, their most of the season, and in fact their most since 2017. “There are a lot of things we can do to improve in the run game and hopefully we can get going in the next few weeks”.
Part of the issue, insofar as there is one, has been gathering a consistency of personnel. Starting right guard David DeCastro missed the first two games of the season, and his first replacement, Stefen Wisniewski was injured. Kevin Dotson, a rookie, had to start in week two.
Meanwhile, Matt Feiler, who started 25 games at right tackle in 2018-19, moved to left guard, and he does look like he’s still adjusting to that role. He’s probably had the most individual ‘losses’ of all the starting linemen on the season so far.
Add on top of that two new right tackles. Zach Banner won the job in training camp but suffered a torn ACL at the end of the opener. Chukwuma Okorafor has started the past two games and is starting to settle in. They should have their starting five set now, which will give them the opportunity to gel together.
One thing Villanueva does like to see is the balance between the run and the pass that he has seen so far. “A good balance is going to help slow the defenders down. They’re going to get into a rhythm, the chess match is going to begin with the pass rusher”, he said.
“But as soon as you can throw in a couple of runs it’s going to disrupt that”, he continued. “The edge rusher has to start over again. My mentality as a left tackle is you want to mix in the run as much as you can for it to be productive so they have to honor it and he can’t get into a rhythm with his pass rush moves, because then the game is a little more complicated than that”.
The Steelers have had three running backs rush with success so far this year. James Conner has 224 yards and two scores on 40 rushes. Benny Snell has 129 yards on 29 attempts, while rookie Anthony McFarland rushed for 42 yards on his first six attempts on Sunday.