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: Will the ground game have more success against the Raiders?
The Steelers were very unambiguous throughout the offseason in stating that renovating their running game was their top priority. They certainly through changes at the problem, centrally figured by the drafting of running back Najee Harris in the first round.
The rookie carried the ball 16 times last week in the regular-season opener, producing 45 yards. He averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, and about two thirds of his carries were unsuccessful plays. While a 25-yard reverse from Chase Claypool brought the team’s rushing average up to a more respectable 3.6 yards per carry, that is obviously not what they had in mind when talking about fixing the running game.
I do not think that they held any illusions that everyone would fall into place by the beginning of September. This is, after all, an offense that features not one, two, or even three, but in fact four rookies in the starting lineup, including two along the offensive line. Growing pains were inevitable.
But how soon can we realistically anticipate seeing some progress? The Steelers did run the ball better in the second half last week than they did in the first. Can we see them take a step forward a week later, this time at home?