The Steelers season will be lost unless the run game gets back on track
By Eric Hassel
The Steelers rushing attack is dead last in the NFL through the first four games of the season
The Steelers rushing attack, more appropriately the rushing retreat, is ranked dead last in the NFL through the first four games of the season. According to ESPN, we are averaging a whopping fifty-five yards on the ground. The next worst team is averaging thirteen yards more per game than the Steelers are averaging.
Let’s ponder our predicament for a minute. When I started watching Steelers football in the ’70s, we were a ‘ground and pound’ offense. There were games where we hardly threw the ball because we just didn’t have to. The run game was that effective. Obviously, the offense evolved as the decades passed.
I think it’s fair to say that through the first four games of the 2021 season, the Steelers run game has been ineffective and is not where we need it to be. To take it a step further, not only is the run game ineffective, it is causing us to play a style of offense we don’t want to play.
What I mean by that is this: The inability to run the ball is forcing the Steelers offense to rely on the aerial attack, which is causing undue stress on Ben Roethlisberger and our young, inexperienced offensive line. Make no mistake, the best friend of any QB is an effective run game.
The Steelers may end up with a losing record if the woes in the run game are not resolved
This is not a ‘tongue and cheek’ statement. I firmly believe that averaging three yards per rush attempt is a recipe for a disastrous season. Look, I have lived through losing seasons before and I would rather not experience those seasons again, but even during those losing seasons, there was one constant: The Steelers were always able to run the ball.
The passing game may have been suspect, but the run game was generally reliable. That is not the case thus far this season. With the run game as feckless as it is, you would assume the passing game would be able to take up the slack. Au contraire, mon frere.
The struggles of the offensive line in the run game have bled over into the passing game. The offense needs to be balanced in order for us to win consistently. Sans a balanced offense, one facet has to be markedly better than the other and that is simply not the case.
Neither the run game nor the passing game is providing much help to ‘Big Ben’, which, frankly, is criminal. Those fans who want us to bench ‘Big Ben’ and go in another direction clearly have not lived through the two decades of sub-par QB play after Terry Bradshaw retired up until ‘Big Ben’ made his debut.
So how do the Steelers get the run game back on track? Honestly, it’s something we have discussed previously, but, to me, it’s not as complicated as it may seem to be. First and foremost, we need to stop calling outside zone plays and call plays where our RBs are running between the tackles. The offensive line is not built to be a zone blocking line.
Second, we need to just commit to establishing the run. I realize that is harder than it sounds, particularly when the opposing defense knows we are running the ball and commits to stopping the run. Regardless, we still need to try.
Lastly, we need to throw the ball down the field consistently. Right now, because there is really no threat of a deep passing game, defenses are just stacking the box, daring us to run, which, right now, we can’t do. Again, a recipe for a losing season.
Look, I hope the Steelers can get the run game back on track. If we continue to struggle, we will be talking about a very long and losing season for the first time since the 2003 season. That’s a long time.