It’s never quite as good as it seems. It’s never quite as bad either. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a bad place, 1-3 and dead last in the AFC North, but there are positives to take away from Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. For Mike Tomlin, that starts with a run game that resembling something functional for the first time all year.
Speaking to reporters during his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin noted a better run game than the team had the previous three weeks.
“In review of the tape, and I expressed this to the team, I thought we took a step in regards to our run game in Green Bay,” Tomlin told reporters. “I thought we eliminated some negativity in terms of negative yardage plays. I thought we played cleaner from a technical standpoint. That’s displayed in tape and also displayed in a reduction of penalties particularly in the run game. And that’s critical for us. You’re getting run game penalties, holding penalties, that essentially kills drives. We’ve had some of those in recent weeks and we cut down on those in Green Bay and that was significant.”
Pittsburgh ran for 62 yards on Sunday, the most since the Week 1 opener when they put up 75 against the Bills. But this weekend’s performance was even more efficient and led by Najee Harris running for 62 yards, averaging a season-best 4.1 yards per carry. It was the most rushing yards gained by a Steeler in one game since Week 15 of last season when Benny Snell put up an 84-yard performance.
Beyond aggregate numbers, Tomlin was also pleased with how the team ran in key moments.
“I also thought that we ran the ball effectively in situational play, short-yardage play and goal line. Those are good building blocks going forward.”
Pittsburgh converted a 3rd and 1 on its opening drive, leading to Diontae Johnson’s 45-yard touchdown to give the Steelers an early 7-0 lead. Late in the game, Harris dove over the goal line for his first NFL rushing score and the first rushing touchdown by a Steelers’ back this season. For most teams, those moments are routine, almost a given. For Pittsburgh, given how bad the run game has been the last 12 months, it’s worth throwing a party.
And for Tomlin, the next step is to be in a position to run the ball more often. Which usually means having a fourth quarter lead.
“We didn’t get enough quantity of runs. Often times, other variables dictate that. By possession downs, conversion rate, possession of the ball, score of the game. We gotta continually work to position ourselves so that we get more attempts, so that we have more balance.”
Pittsburgh hasn’t held a fourth quarter lead at any point over the last three weeks. In fact, they haven’t had a lead in the entire second half since their win over the Buffalo Bills. It’s one reason why the team is dead last in rushing attempts, just 66 of them, and one of many reasons why the run game isn’t where the Steelers want or need it to be. But what they did against the Packers is a start, and hopefully a sign of things to come the rest of the way.