Through the first five games of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers recorded 159 rushing attempts, putting up 680 yards on the ground and averaging 4.3 yards per carry while scoring seven touchdowns. James Conner had 369 yards, including three 100-yard games, with three scores. Benny Snell added 165 yards, and Anthony McFarland 50, while Chase Claypool had two rushing scores.
In the seven games since then, they have only recorded a total of 140 rushing attempts, picking up just 427 yards with three rushing touchdowns, averaging just a bit over three yards per carry. They only have 25 rushing first downs in that time, as opposed to 38 in the first five games.
To go from more than 30 attempts per game down to 20, from 136 yards per game down to just 61, to lose more than a yard per carry, all three of these taken together is a clear demonstration of how drastically the rushing offense has struggled for the bulk of the season.
With James Conner back from the Reserve/Covid-19 List, that should help some, and we may soon see center Maurkice Pouncey return as well, though time is running out for that to happen in time for Sunday’s game. Either way, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wants to see some change.
“Hopefully we can get it fixed. Obviously, if I had the answers, if we had the answers, we would have them fixed by now”, he told reporters earlier this week. “We believe in our guys. We believe in our guys up front and the backs. Sometimes, it’s on me. It’s an RPO and I throw it instead of handing off. Maybe I should’ve handed it off, things like that. We all need to get better, and it’s more than just the run game. We need to get better as a group”.
One thing that has been absent in recent weeks has been both the opportunities and the ability to close out games with the ball on the ground. You have to have late leads in order to do this, for one thing, and in some instances, they haven’t had this, whether they were successfully able to come back or not.
That certainly doesn’t account for the entirety of the drop, but it also speaks to the early issues in the run game. Yes, they were able to close games on the ground, but it was not smooth running throughout the game, and they built their numbers up in the fourth quarter—though that’s certainly nothing to complain about.
The Steelers have become one of the most imbalanced teams in the NFL over this stretch in terms of the run-pass ratio. Obviously, they have gone 6-1 in that stretch, so there isn’t that much to complain about. But it’s always better to be able to run well than not, and a strong case can be made that they will, at some point this year, need to run the ball better.