Not to put too fine a spin on it, but the Pittsburgh Steelers suck at running the football, not just right now, but for the bulk of the season. After rushing for just 47 yards last night against the Buffalo Bills on 17 rushing attempts, they have now been held to under 100 yards rushing in seven of their last eight games, and under 50 yards in five of their last five.
This is after they started the season with five consecutive games of more than 100 yards on the ground, which even featured four individual 100-yard games from their running backs, three by James Conner and one by Benny Snell.
Nothing changed between the first five games and the eight that have followed. It’s hard to make sense of how and why they have suddenly become so bad at running the ball when, in actuality, they did have some success in the early portions of the season.
Getting Conner and center Maurkice Pouncey back after missing the past two games did not help against the Bills. Conner was held to just 18 rushing yards despite recording 10 rushing attempts, averaging a lethargic 1.8 yards per attempt. The rest of the team fared little better.
“Defenses can play fast if you can’t run the ball”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger conceded during his post-game interview following last night’s loss, the Steelers’ second in a row after winning 11 straight. “We need to do better at being a more balanced offense. We need to do better at executing the plays that are called”.
It was five games ago, following a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, that head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged not only that there was a problem with the running game, which he had not really acknowledged up to that point, and also that they would be actively working to correct it.
They did rush for over 100 yards in the first game after that, and had a bit of late-game success running with Snell at the end a week later, but they have been under 50 yards again for the past two weeks, and they generally have looked out of sorts.
“If I had that answer, we wouldn’t be tripped up, and we wouldn’t be playing so poorly on offense”, Roethlisberger said about what it would take the get the running game working the way it should. “Like I said, we need to look in the mirror, and it starts with me”.
Roethlisberger needs to play better, of course, but they also need to get some semblance of life out of the running game at some point as well. Perhaps if they were having more success, there wouldn’t be as much pressure on the quarterback position.