It was the NFL’s worst-kept secret. Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had no choice but to throw the football. Teams quickly caught on, adjusted, and the offense tanked down the stretch, along with the team’s dreams of a deep playoff run. If Pittsburgh can replicate what they did Sunday against the Denver Broncos the rest of the season, defenses won’t have an easy time figuring the Steelers out.
Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor offered a candid assessment of the Steelers’ offense a year ago, contrasting it to what Pittsburgh was able to do in their critical Week 5 win.
“What happened last year, we passed the ball pretty much every play,” he told reporters following Wednesday’s practice. “And it worked for awhile but eventually teams watched film and figured out how to fix it. So having a run game for sure helps.”
Last season, the Steelers led the league with 656 passing attempts while Ben Roethlisberger finished third in the league in that category. This season, they rank tied for the sixth-most attempts, a number they probably don’t want to sit at but a small step of improvement this season. Sunday’s win over Denver was the best outcome, running the ball ten times more than they threw it. Ben Roethlisberger attempted just 25 passes, a rarity for him or this team. Since 2018, they’ve had just six games throwing 25 or fewer times, four of those coming in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger.
But throwing less means running the ball more effectively. Not into a brick wall, as was the case for the first three weeks of the season before tiny strides were made in Week 4’s loss to the Packers. For Okorafor, the line’s struggles were frustrating but helped lead the team in the right direction.
“You look back every week and say, ‘we did this decent, we did this bad, we did this good. Let’s try to improve every play.’ So yes, you want to flush it but you also gotta learn a lot from it too.”
The Steelers will need more performances like that going forward. The line knows it too and Okorafor, echoing the things guys like Trai Turner have said (and no doubt brought up by the coaching staff) isn’t resting on last week’s laurels.
“We still have a long long way left. So we can’t feel really good.”