Scenario: The Steelers gain 2,000 or more rushing yards in 2014.
Why it will happen: Pittsburgh is making it clear they want to run the ball successfully in 2014. Sure, no one wants to fail in that regard, but bringing in a zone-blocking guru as well as bolstering their young offensive line with perhaps the best offensive line coach in the NFL, Mike Munchak, along with the signing of complimentary back LeGarrette Blount (joining Le'Veon Bell in LeBackfield), it appears the Steelers want rushing success to lead their powerful offense.
Bell, as a rookie, averaged 18.7 carries a game after missing the first three contests with a foot injury. His ceiling is high, and is as solid a bet to surpass 1,000 rushing yards as anyone else in the NFL. The question will be how far over 1,000 will he go, and will the opportunities exist for Blount to make up the difference?
The Steelers will also utilize rookie Dri Archer in something of a rushing capacity, although it would appear, just by his stature alone, he'd be used more as a receiver out of the backfield than a running back. Still, it seems manageable for an outstanding zone blocking line (which the Steelers will have) to carve out enough space for Bell to rack up 1,300 rushing yards, with Blount picking up another 500. Another 200 yards scraped together from Archer and/or an as-of-now undetermined fourth running back doesn't seem too far out of line.
Why it won't happen: The question will be touches. For Bell to get the aforementioned 1,200 yards, he'll need to average about 4.2 yards a carry on 18 carries a game. It would seem the Steelers intend to get Blount the ball to a certain degree, considering the Steelers signed him to a $3.85 million contract over two years this offseason. That's not huge money comparatively speaking to the rest of the NFL but it's still pretty high for a running back - or at least one who wouldn't get more than five carries a game on average.
Of the 12 teams that rushed for 2,000 yards or more last season, none of them averaged fewer than 26.7 rushes per game - that was the Vikings, who have Adrian Peterson. Most of them have mobile quarterbacks who can take a few carries a game. The Steelers will likely need to get Bell around 20 carries a game and get Blount and the field another nine, while collectively rushing for about 4.3 yards a carry.
Getting above that 4.4 yards a carry typically needs a big-play back, but teams are showing more lately of the ability to gain big yards from spread formations in single-back situations. Green Bay is an excellent example of this, having rushed for 2,136 yards, and 4.7 yards per carry without a running back with a high level of speed. Eddie Lacy, the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year, could crack of 20-yard runs consistently. Their one-two punch of Lacy and Steelers free agency target James Starks had 1,178 and 493 rushing yards, respectively.
The bulk of that, though, was the byproduct of a game plan that factored in a less-than-adequate quarterback. When Aaron Rodgers was healthy, the team looked to throw the ball for obvious reasons. The Steelers wouldn't be wise to take that much of the game out of the hands of Ben Roethlisberger. They just may not simply have enough opportunity to run that often.
Keys: This will come down simply to the team's ability to keep games close. If they have a lead in the fourth quarter, they will look to run 13 straight times and kneel out the clock in the opponent's red zone. But if it's tied or they're losing, they're going to rely on Roethlisberger to win it late. Bell and Blount will make up one of the best rushing combinations in the NFL, but because their speed doesn't suggest they're capable every play of breaking from 50 yards out, those big rushing games in terms of yards may simply not come often enough to reach 2,000 yards, despite reaching the goal of having a successful running game (4.3 yards a carry).
At the same time, with an improved defense, the Steelers may see more possession due to takeaways, and will be able to run more often. That may be what this will ultimately depend on; how many carries they're able to run due to possession and the scoreboard.