I'd like to take some time to discuss what I think would be a critical move for the Steelers in the draft this year. Most people have been looking at the offensive and defensive line situations, the linebacking corps, and even wide receivers with the threat of losing Wallace well among us and Ward's retirement.
But, I am not one of those people. I think sometimes the biggest problem is the one you don't realize you have. And I've been doing a little reminiscing about the days when we ran the football. The days when our guys dominated the field on the ground. The days when Ben didn't have to throw 40 times a game and get broken and injured every week.
I'm talking about the run game here, or lack thereof. I'm here to tell you why we NEED to draft a RB, and who I would be interested in.
First of all, people are probably thinking I'm crazy for even touching on the RB position for the first round. We cry about the woeful O-line and lack of depth at LB and DL, so we clamor for those positions. But I've been thinking about how our running game is quickly fading into the wind, and I feel it's not a good thing to let fall by the wayside so easily.
The Steelers are a franchise known for pounding you in your face hole with a run game that would implode your will to live. Steeler Football meant an oppressing D, and a steady, reliable, and controlling offense. Effectively, our offense was our best defense. Chewing up clock, sustaining drives, keeping our D fresh at every turn, that's what our offense was always able to do. It's who we were, and in my opinion it's who we should still try to be.
And that's largely in part due to the great running backs that have graced the city of Pittsburgh. From Franco Harris, a hall of famer, to a future hall of famer in Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh has left cleatmarks in the bodies of many an opponent. Between these two legends, many other franchise running backs have existed, people who contributed for quite some time. Men who ran with purpose and conviction. Names like Frenchy Fuqua, Merril Hoge, Bam Morris, and Rocky Bleier all spark imagery of pummeling submission brought by a monster of a man. Even the one Fast Willie Parker, although different, was a great back. These are the people you think about when somebody says Steeler Football.
I have to confess, I've never fully explained my love for FWP before here on BTSC. So if you let me pander you with a quick true story, I'll talk real football. Back in 2004 I got the latest copy of Madden. I used to play with a good friend, a guy who's recovering from cancer at the moment. Anyway I always played the Steelers, he was a Pats fan just because growing up in Detroit sucks so bad you're allowed to pick another team. So we played Steelers Pats, who I hate and are stanky. Back then I never really tinkered with rosters, I just played, but my friend always moved guys around a ton and it used to piss me off.
Anyway one day I decide to take a peek at the Steelers roster, I knew just about everybody but I figured I'd look at the Madden stats. And I saw this running back rated 76 overall with like 95 speed and was confused. That did not fit the description of a typical Pittsburgh running back. My next game with my friend, I subbed him in. He just laughed and said I was stupid.
I kicked his ass for three games. And then I got interested in watching him play. But he never got a chance for most of the season. Of course I was just busy enjoying the Ben show that year. But I kept thinking about that running back who I called WP when I played madden. I didn't add the fast part. Some other jagoff got the naming rights. I told my friend before the start of 2004 that the year the Steelers started WP, they would win the super bowl. He laughed, said it would never happen.
When I saw him play in Buffalo at the end of 2004, I saw a great player. Luck gave him the chance to start, and the rest is history. I feel like I was his first fan among Steeler Nation, and I have his jersey hanging in my closet and it's worn every Steelers Sunday.
So anyway getting back to the point. You might think that RB isn't that important in this league, that maybe you can just pass your way to victory now. And sure it seems that way nowadays. But just because everybody else is doing it doesn't make it right. Usually the team with a good run game manages to win the game. Even in recent high passing years, the team with the better run game in the Super Bowl tends to come away victorious. The Pats havent had a run game since Corey Dillon and haven't won a SB since him either. The Colts won when they had a good run game, lost when they didn't. And Shaun Alexander was great, but Jerome Bettis and FWP were better.
Mendenhall to me isn't the answer to the problem. He has not been and never will be a true franchise back. He seems too contact shy, lacks vision, hesitates, and fumbles more than a great RB should, often at the worst times. And now we probably won't have him back in time for opening day.
I love me some Isaac Redman, creator of all that is good, but he's hardly a foregone conclusion as a feature back, and you still need somebody to spell him. He’s a bruiser and a punisher which I love, but you need to compliment that with a speedster. 2005 was probably the best running game I’ve ever seen. You had the Bus mowing guys down, and Parker lighting them up. Why not try to go back to that?
John Clay and Dwyer look interesting, but could be little more than flashes in the pan.
This year, it just so happens that a good RB might be within our reach. A guy like Lamar Miller. Now Lamar Miller might not have a whole ton of stats to back himself up, but I think he has the natural skills and he could last us quite a while. He has a very FWP type build, at 5-11 212 pounds, out of Miami. 4.40 forty time has him rising on some charts. The question mark is the lack of experience. Then again, FWP barely even played before he started for the Steelers.
Of course there could be other players to consider in later rounds if we don’t decide to go first round RB. But frankly, I see a lot of other players getting gobbled up before our pick comes around, and while the whole league is heading down the passing path, we would do well to pick up a new man to lead us down the Running road.
If you look at our last three Super Bowls, and compare the running games, you might notice a trend. Now, in all three we didn’t run particularly well. But in XL, the Bus still converted some key third downs and FWP broke a Super Bowl record. We won the game by more than one score and it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
Fast forward to XLIII. The run that year was a mess, Parker coming off the leg injury, Mendenhall fumbling and getting injured early. Waltzing Mewelde saved our Bacon in the middle, but FWP started and finished the year well. But in the big game, nobody ran well. Our D had to save the game in the first half and The Ben in the 2nd. It was a lot harder against a much weaker opponent, and we barely pulled it out.
And then to XLV. In this game we actually had moderate running success on a few plays. But we gave up on it really early, and even in drives we’d abandon it in the most crucial moments. Add to that a rather untimely Mendenhall fumble, and you have a lost game against a very talented opponent, sadly not enough to win it. Perhaps if we had kept the Packers off the field more, we would have won.
A strong running game compliments, and enhances a passing attack. We have become far too predictable. I hope that with the addition of the Haley we realize it’s best to get back on our feet, literally, and reduce the number of times Ben has to throw it. Ben’s best years statistically were one and done in the playoffs (2009, 2011). There’s a reason for that, we can’t run anymore. I miss Steeler Football. I want it back.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Our very own Art Rooney II made this observation the previous year, and we tried it more this year. We ran more, but for a very low YPC and our run game was inconsistent.
A talented running back would take pressure off Ben, as teams won’t be able to predict our offense so easily, and it will provide a tough choice for the defense. Double team Wallace (or Brown possibly), and take a safety out of the box. Or put the safety in and risk getting burned on play action. That’s how we won before, and that’s how I think we should win again.
Remember, just because everybody else is passing doesn't make it the right thing to do. Eventually teams will overload on defensive back talent, and their run defenses will weaken as a result of lesser demand. We could take advantage of the trend by bucking it. Be the one team that can run it down your throat and control the ball, keeping the high powered passing offense out of sync and on the bench.
Your thoughts? Draft an RB? If so, where in the draft and who should it be?