The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has been struggling throughout the first three weeks of the regular season, and a large part of that struggle has been the decreased volume and success of Le’Veon Bell and the running game.
While some fans are wondering what’s going on with the running game, I decided to talk to our local Stat Geek (58Steel) and see what he could dig up on the subject. He took a look at the running game in Week 3 vs. the Bears and tried to figure out just what the recipe for success will be against the Ravens this Sunday.
Check out his findings below:
Were the Steelers successful running the ball? A successful offensive play is defined differently depending who your source is. Nonetheless, all are based on the yards needed for a first down and what down it is: Pro Football Focus (PFF) defines a successful offensive play as one that gains:
1st down - 40% of yards needed
2nd down - 60% of yards needed
3rd down - 100% of yards needed
4th down - 100% of yards needed
Steelers ran the ball 18 times. Two of those plays were negated by Steelers penalties (both were successful, by the way—a 10-yard run and 4-yard run). Both plays occurred on first down and put the Steelers in long yardage situations. Both times the Steelers failed to gain a first down.
Otherwise: 16 called runs, 10 of which were successful (as defined by PFF).
Broken down by offensive personnel:
11 (1RB, 1TE)-12 plays, 8 successful
21 (2RB, 1TE)-2 plays, 0 successful
12(1RB, 2TE)-2 plays, 2 successful
Regarding any narrative that the Steelers were running into a "loaded box" (8 or more, dropping a safety down, etc)—not true. The Steelers had even numbers on every run. It was 6 on 6 from 11 personnel, 7 on 7 from 21 personnel, 8 on 8 from 12 personnel. Those numbers should be a win for the offense. And they did "win" 62.5% of them. There weren't any big runs, though—only one for 10+ yards (even that came on 1st-and-20). Offensive line and/or Bell, wasn’t getting it done there.
One last thing. As far as game circumstances dictating the number of runs, that can be debated. But the Steelers ran the ball on consecutive plays, exactly ZERO times.
Could the solution to the Steelers’ running-game issues be as plain as simply running the ball more? The stats certainly suggest this might be the case, but the ultimate goal of the offense should always be to stay balanced. Ben Roethlisberger is a seasoned veteran now, and he’s more than capable of keeping the team balanced with run/pass option plays.
As the Steelers approach the stout Ravens defense in Week 4, their success, or lack thereof, running the football will be a huge key to victory for the Black-and-gold.