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2021 South Side Questions: How Close Is Run Blocking To Working?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom look to be in a starting role (or complementary role in Freiermuth’s case) for the season opener.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. They have a 53-man roster, though it will always change to some degree. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: How close is the blocking in the run game to actually working?

The Steelers prioritized improving their run game this offseason, and so far, they have not achieved their goals. The sample size is small, just two games into the regular season, but the early results are no better than last year—even if the potential is higher.

As we have been talking about in recent days, studying the actual blocking on the run plays, it does appear that the structure of the runs are there. It’s just a matter of getting everybody to do their job, in relation to one another, all at the same time, on the same play.

Head coach Mike Tomlin has talked about it. Zach Banner has talked about it. Kevin Dotson has talked about it. The Steelers have had many runs that have been just one block, sometimes two, away from opening a hole and creating the potential for a big play.

When you have two rookie starters, two more inexperienced starters, and a veteran new to your team, it’s hard to get everybody on the same page and ready to compete at the required level. Add in a rookie running back and a rookie blocking tight end, with a first-year offensive coordinator as the cherry on top, and you’re looking at some very predictable growing pains.

But when will we start seeing some results? There’s no reason that they can’t hit some runs, and to their credit, they actually have had a few runs break off for double-digits yards. This is an offense, and a team, that can’t afford to wait.

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