Appearing on The Herd hosted by Colin Cowherd earlier today, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward talked about how the Steelers do things differently than other NFL contenders. Heyward believes the Steelers’ run-heavy philosophy bodes well for the team making a deeper run in the postseason.
“I think you gotta play a different brand of football. Matchups make you know the fight. I know we are different than a lot of other teams that throw the ball a million times down the field, but what do we do differently? We run the ball and we have a lot of success doing it,” Heyward said via the Herd’s YouTube channel. “What does that do to the equation? Let’s your defense rest. The best defense is on the sideline. So if we can have an offense that sustains drives, that gets a high-flying offense out of their rhythm, I think that’s a better way that translates better in the playoffs because you have to be able to run the ball. If you can’t run the ball consistently all the time, you’re gonna be in for a long day.”
If you ask somebody in their 40s or 50s what Pittsburgh Steelers football is to them, there’s a good chance they’ll answer a ground-and-pound rushing attack with a fearsome defense to match. While the Steelers went more pass-heavy when they had an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the team has traditionally been built on controlling the clock and winning with a strong defense.
Before the 2022 season, I argued that the best way for Pittsburgh to win last year with a quarterback situation that was unsettled at best was with Mitch Trubisky the Week 1 starter and Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings. The team struggled early in the season. It wasn’t until after the bye week, when the offensive line really started to gel and starting running back Najee Harris got healthy, that the Steelers started to excel. They won games by controlling time of possession, running the football, and making the throws they needed to make. At its core, Pittsburgh was an old-school, throwback team that won on the ground and with defense.
It certainly seems as if that’s the strategy the Steelers want to continue going forward. After drafting Harris in the first round in 2021 and taking their quarterback of the future in Pickett in 2022, the Steelers’ primary focus has been building up the offensive line.
The additions of James Daniels, Mason Cole, Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo over the past two offseasons speak to a run-first philosophy; each has proven to be a road grader in the run game throughout their respective careers. Right now, it’s a smart strategy. Pickett isn’t yet the elite quarterback who can put a team on his back and carry it (although he certainly showed off his clutch gene with back-to-back game-winning touchdowns in the final minute last year). Banking on an elite, well-rested defense and a consistent running game is the strategy the Steelers should pursue.
If Pickett develops into a top-five or top-10 starting quarterback, like Roethlisberger was at his peak, the Steelers will turn to the passing game more. For now, it makes sense to rely on the run and a strong defense to win games and try to win Super Bowl No. 7. Let’s hope the strategy proves to be successful in 2023.