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Debunking Any Notion That The Steelers Failed To Run The Ball Enough Yesterday

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This oh-so-eloquent excerpt comes from a recent fanpost.

Can the Steelers just be a bit smarter about play calling during crucial times of the game when it behooves them to take the time off the clock and Mendenhall has proven himself to be quite capable of handling the load...........34 needs the ball 20 times a game MINIMUM!!!!  good grief!!!

There was additional griping about the number of running plays called in other games this season. I'd agree that it made little sense how few runs were called against the Cleveland Browns considering the flow of that game and the success that the running game had been having the previous week and earlier in the contest against the Browns. But against the Vikings yesterday, the way the game unfolded dictated how many carries Mendenhall received. Let's take a look at every last play and drive Pittsburgh had yesterday to get a better understanding of how the flow of the game limited the number of touches he had.

Drive #1:

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 14 yards
#2 (1st and 10) Pass Sack -8 yards
#3 (2nd and 18) Pass (Miller) 6 yards
#4 (3rd and 12) Pass (S. Holmes) Incomplete

 

Analysis: Obviously Pittsburgh has to throw on 2nd and 3rd down there after the 8 yard sack on 1st down. Not an ideal way to start the game offensively, but promising I suppose that Mendenhall's first carry was so successful.

Drive #2:

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Pass (Mendenhall) -1 yards
#2 (2nd and 11) Run (Mendenhall) 3 yards
#3 (3rd and 8) Pass (Moore) Incomplete

 

Analysis: Again, Arians doing just fine trying to get Mendenhall involved early. A screen pass to him followed by a run on 2nd and 11. Mind you, Arians isn't famous for running on 2nd and 11. Then on 3rd and 8, what can you do but pass? Nice start for the Vikings defense as the Steelers offense feels their way around unsuccessfully.

 

Drive #3:

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Pass (Ward) 3 yards
#2 (2nd and 7) Pass (Holmes) Incomplete
#3 (3rd and 7) Pass (Wallace) 10 yards
#4 (1st and 10) Run (Wallace) 13 yards
#5 (1st and 10) Pass (D. Johnson) 4 yards
#6 (2nd and 6) Run (Parker) 2 yards
#7 (3rd and 4) Pass (Holmes) TD nullified by penalty
#8 (3rd and 14) Pass Sack -4 yards

 

Analysis: Oh my God! We didn't run the ball! And he moved right down the field for the first score of the game. Had it not been for Heath Miller's pass interference on the opposite side of the field where the touchdown occurred, the Steelers would have had the game's first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. This was a nice drive, partly set up by the nice reverse call to Wallace. When you run against the Vikings, you're usually not going to have much success in between the tackles where the two Williamses are collapsing everything. Well done by the Steelers offense here.

By the way, if you ask me, that's a great rule about receivers setting picks for their teammates. There's already way too many built in rules favoring the quarterback and the passing game. No need to give them one more by allowing them to set screens for one another. Too slippery a slope.

 

Drive #4

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 2 yards
#2 (2nd and 8) Pass (Miller) 6 yards
#3 (3rd and 2) Pass (Ward) Incomplete

 

Analysis:Now, here's the first drive in the game where fans might question what Bruce Arians was thinking. At this point, the Steelers running game was neither dominant nor dormant. But as we all should know by now, Arians doesn't run the ball very frequently -read hardly ever - in 3rd and short situations.

 

Drive #5

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) -2 yards
#2 (2nd and 12) Pass (Miller) 7 yards
#3 (3rd and 5) Pass (Moore) Incomplete

 

Analysis: Again, the Steelers tried to run the ball, but a -2 yard play on 1st down put them behind the 8 ball. The Steelers have actually been very good in 3rd and 5 type situations, so what can you say when a pass to Mewelde Moore goes incomplete? Not much. Remember though, that 2nd down play - the pass to Heath Miller for 7 yards - is exactly the type of play that is more or less a 'running play'. Big Ben's completion rate to Heath Miller is ridiculously high - near 90 % - so it makes perfect sense to throw to him there on 2nd and 12.

 

Drive #6

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Pass (Holmes) 14 yards
#2 (1st and 10) Pass (Wallace) Incomplete
#3 (2nd and 10) Pass (Miller) 9 yards
#4 (3rd and 1) Run (Moore) 6 yards
#5 (1st and 10) Pass (Holmes) Incomplete
#6 (2nd and 10) Pass (Wallace) 22 yards
#7 (1st and 10) Pass (Spiked ball) Incomplete
#8 (2nd and 10) Pass (Wallace) 40 yards (TD!)

 

Analysis: Okay, we're in the 2 minute drill here, so not many opportunities to run the ball. Thank goodness for our explosive aerial attack and veteran quarterback though. It was important I thought to get points and some momentum here before halftime, as much of the 1st half had been unproductive for the offense as they felt their way around what Minnesota was trying to do defensively.

Drive #7

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 16 yards
#2 (1st and 10) Run (Wallace) 6 yards (+15 yard penalty)
#3 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 9 yards
#4 (2nd and 1) Run (Mendenhall) No gain
#5 (3rd and 1) Run (Roethlisberger) 2 yards
#6 (1st and 8) Pass (Holmes) Incomplete
#7 (2nd and 8) Run (Roethlisberger) -1 yards
#8 (3rd and 9) Pass (Ward) Incomplete

 

Analysis: A nice opening drive to the 2nd half for the Steelers, catalyzed by the running game. The Steelers weren't able to punch the ball in to the end zone after breaching the Vikings red zone, but I don't see how you can complain that they didn't go to the running game enough or failed to try to establish Mendenhall early and often after intermission. A field goal by Jeff Reed put the Steelers ahead 13-7.

 

Drive #8

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Holmes) 1 yard
#2 (2nd and 9) Pass (Miller) 7 yards
#3 (3rd and 2) Pass (Holmes) Incomplete

 

Analysis: This is really the only place where fans could legitimately argue that the Steelers should have tried to run the ball a bit more. With the defense just having stuffed the Vikings at the goal line and in need of a breather, it was unfortunate that the Steelers offense was sent back to the sidelines after just three plays. Again though, those short little passes to Heath Miller for 5-7 yards are very much like running plays in this offense. That said, a run on 3rd down to Mendenhall might have been a better call than passing there.

 

Drive #9

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 17 yards
#2 (1st and 10) Pass (Mendenhall) Incomplete
#3 (2nd and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 5 yards
#4 (3rd and 5) Pass (Holmes) 45 yards
#5 (1st and 10) Run (Mendenhall) 5 yards (Fumble)

 

Analysis: Okay, what's the complaint here. Bruce Arians dialed up the run here and it was effective. The problem of course was Mendenhall fumbled inside the 5 yard line. It was the second week in a row he's coughed it up. Not good. But again, no legitimate gripes with a lack of running plays being called.

 

Drive #10

Play Play Call Result
#1 (1st and 10) Pass (Miller) 3 yards
#2 (2nd and 7) Run (Moore) 4 yards
#3 (3rd and 3) No play 5 yards (penalty)
#4 (1st and 10) Run (Moore) 6 yards
#5 (2nd and 4) Run (Moore) -2 yards
#6 (3rd and 6) Pass Sacked -10 yards

 

Analysis: What do you want here? The Steelers ran the ball up 20-17 trying to milk the clock and hold on to the lead. The running game was doing just fine, but on that -2 yard run by Moore, he did a poor job of trying to dance outside rather than just plunging ahead for no gain or perhaps 1 yard. I still think we would have thrown on 3rd and 3 or 4 because that's what Arians tends to do. And we've been remarkably successful in those situations. But again, a very appropriate blend of runs and passes for this situation. And if you're wondering why Mendenhall only got 10 carries, well he would have gotten a few more if he hadn't fumbled on the Steelers previous possession.

 

Conclusion

There you have it, 10 drives total for the game. Only four in the second half thanks to Brett Favre and the Vikings being on the field for much of the 2nd half. If you look at the context and flow of the game, you can quickly see that the game dictated how many carries Mendenhall got. Could he have maybe gotten 3 or 4 more carries somewhere along the way? Sure. But to just bark 'He needs 20 carries a game, minimum NO EXCUSES' is just random barking without even turning one's mind on to think about how the game unfolded. This offense will continue to need to evolve as it incorporates our talented 2nd year running back more and more. But it's still going to be a pass-first team for the most part and that's just fine. Look around the league at the best teams out there. All are pass first teams. That's the way this league is now. Anyway, nothing to complain about yesterday in terms of the play calling. Minnesota played a very nice game defensively and then played ball control with their offense for much of the 2nd half. A tough, hard fought win by the Steelers.