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Steelers Film Room: Pittsburgh’s path to 500 points in 2016 (Part I - Short distance ground game)

The Film Room starts a long series that analyzes why the Steelers should expect to score 500 points in 2016.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, commented last week about how he still holds the goal of his offense to score 30 points per game in 2016 just as he did in 2015. The 2015 Steelers scored 423 points in their 16 regular season games, falling short of the 30 points per game goal with a 26.4 averaged points per game.

Many might point to the offense being decimated with injuries throughout 2015 as a reason for falling short of Haley’s goal. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey never played a down in the regular season, and the team would also lose its talented left tackle, Kelvin Beachum, midway through the season. Despite having one of the best tandems in football with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh never enjoyed an entire game when all three would play together.

Bell missed the first two games of the season due to a suspension, and when he returned in week three, Roethlisberger would suffer an injury that could have ended his season. Fortunately for Pittsburgh the injury was not as serious as initially feared and Roethlisberger would return in week eight, only to see Bell lost for the season with an ACL tear against the Bengals.

While Pittsburgh has lost receiver Martavis Bryant for the year due to his suspension, the roster is still packed with weapons at every position that make for threats at so many levels that if the team can finish with a healthy season for its stars, Haley’s 30 point per game goal might just be realized in 2016.

To achieve that average, Pittsburgh would have to score 480 points during the regular season. While that number would be impressive, the Steelers could also be part of history to be the first Pittsburgh team to score 500 points in a single season and join 16 other NFL teams that have accomplished the feat over the decades.

From the 16 teams that have scored 500 points in a season, ten have gone to the Super Bowl. If Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and their primary supporting cast on offense can remain healthy throughout 2016 there is no reason to think that this team would not be able to put up 500 points.

This film room series will come in nine parts and analyze the many different ways Pittsburgh’s offense can attack defenses and take over games with their talented roster. This first edition of the series analyzes the team’s ability to win with the ground game with short distances.

DeCastro and Gilbert lead the way

Williams TD vs 49ers Week 2 2015. Gilbert Pancake

This play is a prime example of how Pittsburgh’s offensive line can control the point of attack with its big name players. Former first round pick David DeCastro and former second round pick Marcus Gilbert are both major talents for the unit and get the job done with excessive force on this play.

DeCastro and Gilbert start with a double team on the defensive tackle, but Gilbert then chips off the double team to take out a blitzing safety. Meanwhile Cody Wallace has effectively sealed his man to the inside of the play while Beachum and Ramon Foster have held their ground on the left side. The result is a clear lane for DeAngelo Williams to attack.

Efficiency in short spaces

Ramon Foster chips to the LB to lead the way for a Williams TD vs. the Raiders in 2015.

The key to winning in these short spaces is effective use of linemen to confuse and take on opponents defenders enough to give the running back the best opportunity to score. Steelers’ offensive line coach, Mike Munchak has done and excellent job teaching fundamentals to the line and getting them to execute at the point of attack.

Notice how on this play, Williams is going to attack the weak side of the defense between Alejandro Villanueva and Foster. The key here is creating that lane by Villanueva keeping his the defensive end to the outside and for Wallace and Foster to keep the defensive tackle from breaking through the line of scrimmage or closing the gap.

Wallace and Foster both get a good double team to force the defensive tackle to stand up, effectively neutralizing his impact on the play. Foster however sees the middle linebacker of the Oakland Raiders scraping to the hole and chips from the tackle to the linebacker to give Williams the best chance to hit the hole.

This kind of work in short spaces has made the Steelers’ offensive line a major asset to the team and paved the way for Williams to have a great season for a player coming off the bench.

Le’Veon Bell can always take over

Le’Veon Bell powers through the St. Louis Rams’ line for a touchdown in 2015.

Pittsburgh’s offensive line cannot always win the battle at the line of scrimmage and that was apparent when they went up against one of the better defensive fronts of the NFL in the St. Louis Rams. Watch how on this play the offensive line is stagnated and gets no drive to open up holes for Bell, who is hit at the three yard line by the defensive tackle.

Bell’s leg drive never stops and he finds a way to power into the end zone for what would be the game’s only touchdown in a close win for Pittsburgh. Steelers fans might have forgotten just how good Bell can be anywhere he lines up on the field, but that will certainly show in 2016 should he remain healthy.

Next edition: ground control

While it is important to win short distance and goal line situations on the ground, controlling the entire game with an effective rushing attack can make for an easier day for your quarterback and a frustrating time for any opponent who cannot figure a way to stop the ball. We will focus more on the ground game and how Pittsburgh can manage to control the flow of a game with a consistent pounding with their running backs.