The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will build off of the success of the running game against the Green Bay Packers and continue to improve in this area.
Explanation: While it may not have been much, the Steelers did run the ball better in their last game than they did over the course of the first three weeks. Isolating what made it better and how to replicate and improve upon it is the challenge that follows.
We knew way back in March, at least, that there were going to be growing pains for the Steelers’ running game this year. We knew the offensive line was going to be flipped. We knew James Conner was leaving. We knew there was going to be a new offensive coordinator, and new offensive line coach.
Is it really surprising that they struggled through the first three weeks of the season? Is there anything remarkable about their showing improvement as they play together more? Of course not, especially when you can see that improvement in running back Najee Harris, a rookie who has been open about his need to gain experience.
Success breeds success. They have some good tape out there now that they can look at and see ‘this is what works, and this is what we did to make it work’. That doesn’t mean they’re going to start rattling off 43 consecutive 100-yard games, but it’s the start of a more stable unit.
Or it was just tone game against a below-average rushing defense, which is what the Green Bay Packers are this season. They are allowing more than 100 yards on the ground per game at 4.3 yards per carry, with nearly a touchdown per game.
One could argue that the Steelers are still coming up short from that perspective. After all, it’s not like they had that remarkable of an evening. Harris rushed for all of 62 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Thanks to a rush of no gain by Benny Snell, their team rushing average actually dipped below 4.0.
If the issues were more about the linemen not being in sync with one another, I would be more confident. Rather, it’s more about people losing their individual matchups, and it’s also the guys who been around longer, not just the rookies whom you can expect to grow.