2022 South Side Questions: Have Steelers Finally Found Running Game Plan?

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, informally known as the South Side facility, now into the regular season. It’s where they otherwise train all year round, and the facility that Burt Lauten insists everybody refers to by its full name.

There are still unsettled questions that need answering, even deep into the regular season. They entered the process with questions in the starting lineup, in the scheme, and elsewhere, but new problems always arise that need to be resolved.

Even questions about who’s starting and when may not have satisfactory answers in their finality, as midseason changes are certainly quite possible, for some positions more than others. We’re also feeling out how the new coordinator posts—or posts in new contexts—end up playing out.

There’s never any shortage of questions when it comes to football, and we’ll be discussing them here on a daily basis for the community to “talk amongst yourselves”, as Linda Richman might say on Coffee Talk.

Question: Have the Steelers finally found a plan for the running game?

For the first time in his career on Sunday, Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett started and finished a game in which he attempted fewer than 35 passes. It was also the first time that he started and finished a game that the team actually won.

And it’s not because the offense wasn’t on the field. In fact, they nearly held a 2:1 margin in time of possession. No, it’s because they ran the ball 43 times, and not without success. The 217 rushing yards was the most the Steelers have had in a game since 2016, and it came through a variety of means.

Starting running back Najee Harris was responsible for the largest share, rushing for 99 yards on 20 attempts, including a season-long 36-yarder. His number two, Jaylen Warren, also contributed 37 yards on nine attempts, much of it on a late 21-yard run. Quarterback Kenny Pickett’s sneaks and scrambles accumulated up to 51 yards, while George Pickens added 23 yards and a touchdown on a pair of jet sweeps. Even fullback Derek Watt converted twice for five yards in short-yardage situations.

Is this the recipe for success? Execution through attrition? Their 43 rushing attempts on the day marked a significant uptick from their previous season high of 31, the only other time this season that they ran the ball 30 or more times.

Their 190 rushing attempts through the first eight games ranked 24th in the league, averaging just under 24 rushing attempts per. It can be difficult to sustain a running game through stops and starts if the results are not immediate.

And they weren’t always. Take Warren’s workload, for example. While he managed to average just over four yards per carry, most of his runs individually were unsuccessful. Harris had a higher rate of success, it should be noted. Add in a few creative accouterments here and there with wide receiver sweeps and fullback dives and you, apparently, get a winning effort. At least on this cold mid-November day in 2022, it did.

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