Though it had been inferred through their actions, I’m not sure that anybody had ever come right out and said it before, but B.J. Finney did when he spoke to reporters last week: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ priority is being a more versatile offense and putting together a better run game.
The draft did the talking for them. They took running back Najee Harris in the first round before adding a blocking tight end in Round 2 in Pat Freiermuth. The end of the second day and the start of the third were bookended by a pair of possible starting offensive linemen in center Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr., both characterized as physical blockers. If that doesn’t scream run game, I don’t know what does.
“We’ve got some different things, odds and ends that we’re doing that is gonna set up some run game, obviously”, Finney said during his media availability at last week’s OTAs. “That’s one of our main focuses—that is our main focus this year, is to be able to run the ball better and open up the offense more”.
And that focus is being spearheaded by a different group of individuals. Gone are Randy Fichtner and Shaun Sarrett, the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the last couple of years. In their places are the promoted-yet-fresh Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm, who are not proteges but rather their own individuals who bring a different approach.
“Coach Canada, Coach Klemm, and [assistant offensive line coach Chris] Morgan are doing a great job making sure that we get looks that we want that are favorable for us to run the ball”, Finney said. “So you’ll see those things as we progress and they start to take hold. Just doing business as usual, but it’s blocking scheme; everyone runs the same things, they just call it different things”.
As the analytics aficionados are likely to point out, running the ball is about so much more than just who is running it, and even who is blocking it. It’s about the runs called, it’s about the blocking scheme, it’s about when and how and where you run.
That seems to be a focal point for Canada and Klemm. The success of a running game is in quality rather than quantity, though the former tends to breed the latter. Picking your opportunities and maximizing your ability to succeed on each is the agenda.
It’s when you have all the other ingredients taken care of that a true talent at running back can really separate himself, for example, the way Ezekiel Elliott did early on in his career. If the Steelers want Harris to get to that same place, they have to have as many pieces of the puzzle already set around him before he steps on the field.