In spite of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers talked all offseason about committing to improving the run game, they haven’t fully maximized the resources that they have on-hand that would give them the best opportunity for success on the field in terms of personnel.
While they have increased their usage of two-tight-end formations, they haven’t run much out of 22 or 13 personnel, at all, and, in fact, Sunday’s game was the first time that they’ve used a tackle-eligible extra lineman all season, even though they have multiple linemen as reserves who are experienced in executing that role.
“The more big guys we get in there, I feel like we’ll get a better push”, running back Najee Harris said when asked about that play run on Sunday, which was a 1st-and-goal play from the one, on which he scored. “Whatever play is called, I feel like I can get whatever amount of short yards it is, or we can block for what it is. It was just something new that we put in. We’re gonna keep using it [moving] forward, probably”.
While he did say that he expects they will use more heavy personnel in the future, he declined to say that that is what he wanted, or that he feels they should have been using it more. When asked that, he first asked reporters what head coach Mike Tomlin said on the subject, and when told he had little to say, he echoed that he doesn’t have much to say, either.
Still, he did express a clear affinity for the simplicity of heavy run formation looks, as they ran at the goal line. It was Zach Banner’s first offensive snap of the season, coming in as an extra blocker at the end of the offensive line, but he played that role for over 200 snaps in 2019. Joe Haeg—who will probably be starting at left guard this week—also played that role for the Buccaneers last season.
“We’re saying, ‘it’s just your best and our best, and who whoever wins wins’”, Harris said of such formations. “That’s, I guess, the tradition around here in Pittsburgh, I’m learning. Just to go back into that type of stuff. It’s always good because it’s the sport of football. I think it’s the most competitive sport. You know what play it is, you know what’s gonna happen, and it’s just one-on-one, really”.
The Steelers have been improving their rushing success rate in obvious rushing situations, though they still have a lot of room to grow, there. Getting more blockers like Banner, the newly-promoted tight end Kevin Rader, and fullback Derek Watt involved wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, something we have been advocating for a bit now, considering they only have two reliable wide receivers on the roster to begin with.