Why the Steelers lost and what they need to do vs. Bills

Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Inability to move the ball

There is no shortage of reasons fans can point to that contributed to the Steelers’ loss to Washington.  Tomlin’s decision to not kick a field goal is certainly one. He has made some questionable choices over the years.  Fans will second-guess that decision for the next few decades.  Boiled down, Tomlin’s decision,  while dubious at best, did not cost them the game as much as other factors, one being the Steelers’ inability to move the ball at times.

The factor that caused the Steelers to lose to Washington above any other factor is the lack of a Steelers rushing game. In 2006 Willie Parker shredded the Browns for 223 yards. In the game against Washington, the Steelers only had 21 total rushing yards. A huge disparity. As a matter of fact, the Steelers also had three consecutive games this season in which they posted less than 50 rushing yards. That has never happened in team history.  In their first five games, the Steelers averaged 136.8 yards per game. In the game against the Giants on week 1, Benny Snell ran for over 100 yards in Conner’s absence. During the last two games in which Conner has been out due to COVID, Snell has averaged 32.5 yds per game. This yard per game average is a bit skewed. Against the Ravens, Snell gained 60 yards, and against Washington, he only had 5 yards.

Look at their first five games as compared to their last five games. This shows how the lack of a running game had affected the Steelers. In their first five wins, the Steelers rushed well enough that their running game complemented their passing game, allowing them to win fairly easily. In the first five games, the Steelers rushed 684 yards averaging 136.8 yards per game. They scored a total of 156 points to 94 by their opponents, an average of 31.2 points a game. In Steelers last five, the Steelers have rushed for 284 yards or an average of 56.8 yards per game. They have scored 123 points to their opponents 69 for an average of 24.6 points.

In their first five games, the Steelers’ average time of possession was 33.37, but in their last five games, their average time of possession dropped to 31.35, almost two full minutes less. That means they are holding the ball less and having less productive drives. If they were running the ball, they would undoubtedly keep the ball longer and possibly score an additional touchdown or field goal a game. Since they averaged 24.6 in their last five games, add seven points to that, and that put them to 31.6 points per game right where they were when they were rushing for 136.8 yards per game.

If that were not enough to persuade you, it gets worse. In the first five games, the Steelers had 7.6 rushing first downs a game. This average drops to 3.4 rushing first downs a game in their last five games. Also, in their first five games, the Steelers only averaged four punts a game, and their average increased to 5.2 punts a game.

So it’s rather elementary; the lack of a running game was going to cost them a victory at some point. It should have happened in Dallas, but Roethlisberger managed a fourth-quarter comeback against a suspect Dallas defense. So against Washington, the Steelers proverbial chickens came home to roost. Firing Randy Fichtner won’t change the fact that the Steelers have no rushing game. Even when James Conner returns from the COVID restriction, it seems unlikely his return will solve the problem. Conner has started in three consecutive games against Baltimore, Dallas, and Cincinnati; the Steelers averaged 45.66 yards per game. The only time in their team’s history this has occurred.

Fans can point fingers all they want or create scapegoats. That does not change the fact the Steelers have no running game, and it cost them a victory and possibly the first seed in the AFC. If the Steelers want to advance to the Superbowl and win it, they must address the running game somehow. Yes, Roethlisberger has shown he can be a miracle worker at times; still, the Steelers have to take some of the pressure off of him and the passing game.

The second reason the Steelers lost should not come as a surprise. It’s been one of those things that every team has to manage. In the Steelers case, it was bound to take its toll eventually, which happened