The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2020 season ranking 32nd in the NFL in total rushing offense. They dedicated a significant portion of their offseason planning to improving that number, which included investing a first-round pick in the running back position, and adding a blocking tight end and two offensive linemen with their next three selections.
All four of those players are in the starting lineup for the Steelers. The number have not yet improved. They have moved the ball to the tune of 114 yards on the ground thus far, ranking 32nd in the league. They rank 30th in yards per carry at 3.3, behind only the Las Vegas Raiders and the Green Bay Packers.
In their defense, they also rank 31st in rushing attempts, but improving the run game will be an ongoing project, as head coach Mike Tomlin pointed out earlier today in his pre-game press conference, addressing the upcoming divisional game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We’ve just got to keep working. Development is that. It’s development. It doesn’t happen in an instant, it doesn’t happen overnight”, he told reporters. “We’re sensitive to that. But at the same time, there’s urgency because we’ve got ballgames to win in the midst of all of this”.
For the most part, they were still able to win ballgames last year in spite of their inability to move the ball on the ground effectively for much of the season. They did defeat a quality Buffalo Bills team on the road in week one without major run-game contributions. But it is a hindrance.
“It is a component of it, and so we’ll continue to work that balance of doing what we have to do in an effort to pursue victory while at the same time”, Tomlin said, “growing individually and collectively in some areas where we’re extremely young or inexperienced from a cohesion standpoint”.
Having four rookies as part of the equation necessitates the growth and development aspect. Running back Najee Harris barely ranks in the top 32 in rushing through two games. Tight end Pat Freiermuth, and linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr., have all visibly displayed their warts, but have also flashed their talent, and shown indications of improvement.
What does that mean for the progression of the run game this season? It’s hard to say, but there isn’t much room to go down at this point. We have seen that the play design is there. There are just some elements of the execution here and there keeping them from capitalizing on what’s in front of them.