At least for as long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is around, the Pittsburgh Steelers are never going to be a team that is going to come out and say that they need to run the ball more frequently. They do, however, say that they need to run the ball better, and occasionally these messages get misconstrued by the time they’re digested by the public.
They will talk about balance, however, and balance has clearly gotten thrown out of whack in recent weeks, largely due to circumstance. In part because they have entered the second halves of the past two games trailing, and in part because it was the only thing they could get to work, the Steelers have been running out of a lot of 01 sets, without even a running back on the field, and mixing in a 3-to-1 pass-run ratio.
All of this is fine as long as they can still be effective when they do run the ball, but unfortunately, even that has been a problem in more recent weeks. The area of biggest concern is the short-yardage failures of the past two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys, with the game against the latter even featuring two failed 4th-and-1 rushing attempts, including one that would have iced the game.
James Conner was the running back of record for that final attempt, and he was knocked back a few yards on the play. He has seen his success rate slipping when looking to convert in short-yardage situations after having been successful earlier in the year, and he knows it needs to be fixed.
“I think it just comes down to a little bit of everything on the offensive side”, he told reporters yesterday about what must be done. “Ball placement, getting push. It just has to get better. We’ve been practicing the same stuff we’ve always been doing. It just has to get better, and that’s on us players”.
Once thing that would help is having the right personnel on the field. Slight rookie back Anthony McFarland has gotten the ball on a couple of short-yardage situations this year and it hasn’t gone well. Conner and Benny Snell need to be the ones on the field, especially if they’re going to try to run between the tackles.
The Cincinnati Bengals have among the worst run defenses and they will be without Geno Atkins on Sunday, while having also recently traded Carlos Dunlap, so that’s two fewer problems that they have to worry about.
Can this game be the elixir that cures what ails the Steelers’ running game, particularly in short-yardage areas? If it’s not, then frankly they have a bigger problem on their hands than they realize. It’s one thing to run the ball sparingly, but another to be unsuccessful when you do.