The Pittsburgh Steelers’ run game has been no bueno so far through the first two games of the 2021 season. In spite of the fact that improving the run game was a self-imposed mandate for the organization this offseason, it’s hardly a surprise that we are not seeing immediate results in terms of numbers.
The reigning AFC North champions rank dead last in total rushing offense, with just 114 yards on the ground, and 25 of those came on a reverse by wide receiver Chase Claypool. But what the coaches are seeing on tape is somehow promising, albeit maddening…because many of the plays are so close to getting off.
“It’s knowing who we’re going to; communication. It’s understanding it’s all five being on the same page”, Zach Banner, the projected right tackle who is currently on the Reserve/Injured List, said on 93.7 The Fan yesterday. “If you look at the film from the endzone copy, you’ll see, wow, one guy, and it’s gone. One guy, and it’s 2nd-and-6 instead of 2nd-and-12. Oh, one block, and that’s the frustrating part”.
This is the sort of predicament that head coach Mike Tomlin would describe as ‘popcorn’—a number of very small things that pop up here and there. It’s one player missing a block on one play, another player stumbling or getting beat on the next rushing snap.
It’s not one or two individual players consistently struggling. Rather, it’s a group failing to find synchronized success. In order to get a run off without a hitch, everybody on that particular play needs to do his job in relation to everybody else doing theirs. One person messing up one small thing can ruin the entire play.
“It’s not just one guy. It’s all of us. It’s a unit”, Banner said. “You know, the typical thing you hear about an offensive line is, if you have a loose hand that’s five separate fingers and you tried punching something, you’d break your hand. But if you close your fist, you’ll break something. It’s that corny stuff that’s actually true”.
The Steelers parted with four long-time veteran starters this past offseason, including 11-year veteran Maurkice Pouncey, who retired. Three of the current starters are new to the team this year, including third- and fourth-round rookies, center Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr.
The latter presumably was only given the opportunity to start because Banner needed more time in his ACL injury recovery, which is why he is on the Reserve/Injured List, for at least one more game. His injury also shifted Chukwuma Okorafor from left tackle to right tackle.
The most consistent lineman so far has been second-year Kevin Dotson, though even that is not saying much. But there are positive signs that suggest that things can turn around. Okorafor actually played considerably better this past week than he did in the opener, a few standout negative plays notwithstanding, when you look at his entire workload. But all of them must improve, and perform together, in order to get this ship heading in the right direction.