The Pittsburgh Steelers ran the football 34 times two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, and dropped back to pass just 26 times. That was by far the biggest discrepancy in their norm, which is the lean heavily on the passing game. Just this past week, they dropped back to pass 41 times and ran the ball 28 times.
On the season as a whole, the Steelers have 131 rushing attempts, which ranks 30th in the NFL, against 235 pass attempts, which ranks eighth. Add another 12 snaps on which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked and you get 247 dropbacks, giving them a run-pass ratio not far off from 2-to-1, really.
And that’s not where the Steelers want to be.
“We have to be able to run the ball when we have to run it and throw it when we want throw it”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada said on Tuesday via transcript. “If they put a lot of guys in the box and outnumber you, you have to be able to throw the football. We want be a balanced offense over the course of a season. Certain games are different. Certain situations are different. We’re not where we want be. I’m not gonna sit here and say that we are”.
Now, they have moved in a positive direction in terms of play call balance over the course of the past two weeks, and a lot of that has to do with Roethlisberger’s play selection when they are running run-pass option plays, something that he really highlighted after last week’s game.
But in order to run the ball more, you also have to run the ball well, because there’s only so much to be gained through attrition if what you’re attempting to do is simply not working. There are certainly several games in which they could have tried more runs than they did, but there is understandable hesitation.
And that is because of the offensive line. As a whole, they’re still not good. There has been improvement, but make no mistake in thinking that the group has somehow become an asset rather than an obstacle that has to be worked around, particularly with respect to the ground game.
Even two weeks ago in Harris’ 100-yard rushing game, for the most part, the line only did just enough to allow the running back to make his own plays. It wasn’t a particularly dominant display from the offensive line that led to the success on the ground; it was merely serviceable for once.
The passing game also has issues, which go beyond the blocking. They are really limited by how far Roethlisberger can take them, and that seems to vary week to week. He can still make some great throws, but he’s just now the same player he was three years ago.