The Pittsburgh Steelers had an actual, bona fide run game today, courtesy not just of running back Najee Harris, but of the offensive line as well, with the entire unit having, by far, their best afternoon of the season.
They churned out 148 yards on 34 rushing attempts on the day, averaging 4.35 yards per rush, with Harris accounting for 122 and a touchdown on 22 carries—more than double what they had been averaging as a team per game up to now.
And while it was nice all around, the important thing is that the running game was efficient in keeping the offense on schedule, something that had not been happening up to now. The Steelers’ offense was poor on first and second down, leading to long third-down tries, but today was the opposite story.
“I think it helps. I don’t know stats, I don’t know the numbers, but it felt like we were converting a lot of third downs”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said when he was asked about how important it was to have the power run game working today, before pivoting to the early-down running.
“I’d love to know what our yards on first down were. That’s big”, he said. “When you can get three, four, five yards on first down, it makes those third downs much more manageable, and I felt like we were in manageable third downs today”.
I’m sure we’ll have more official numbers to you by tomorrow, but it’s obvious that Harris had a high rate of successful runs, including his first two carries on the day. He got six on first down and then three on second to make it a 3rd and 1, which they converted through the air. Of course, the drive ended on a 50-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 7, so it doesn’t always go the way it’s planned.
Although their second drive ended in misfortune, it was a successful one for the key second-down run. Harris picked up three successful plays on the ground on second down on the drive, gaining five on 2nd and 7, then five on 2nd and 10, and another five on 2nd and 4.
Those are the sorts of plays that shape not just a drive, but an entire afternoon. If you can get that sort of mileage on 2nd and 7 to 10 yards, then you’re putting yourself in the position to keep moving the ball. That’s what they did today. That’s what they must keep doing moving forward.