We’ve all blown off steam after a Steelers loss spent yelling at the television by going online and venting about the coaches that need fired, players that need cut, and strategies that are so common sense it is baffling that nobody in the NFL bothers to try them.
This season, after Ben Roethlisberger was hurt and the Steelers were winless some familiar calls erupted.
The defense was giving up big plays, even while they showed signs that they could be much better than their numbers and the offense was struggling to do anything well. Here on BTSC in the gamethread, the articles, the fanposts and comment sections, and all over Steeler Nation the cries erupted to get back to Steeler football, strong defense, power run game. The magic recipe for success from 15 years ago was clearly the answer to the team’s woes.
Of course most of us expected to see the same old thing. The offense would continue as it had, instead of running the ball, or adjusting to the opponent’s weaknesses and the QB talent, just spread the WRs out and throw the ball. While on defense the Steelers would record sacks and give up big plays. The doom and gloom crowd was chanting for Munchak in 2020 and the glass is always full enough crowd were talking about the great opportunity to see if Mason Rudolph was the QB of the future.
But then something different happened. No coaches were fired, but the Steelers pulled a mid-season trade of a first round pick for a second year safety to fill Sean Davis’s shoes. This set off a whole different set of fans, as the draft watchers lamented the loss of a first round pick (and the countless hours of thinking about and debating who to use it on), while others wondered why you would go all in when the team was awful. It was an unprecedented move by a franchise that rarely trades high profile picks and yet it was their second big move of the year after trading up to draft Devin Bush and they brought in a young and talented sidekick to help Bush patrol the field from the middle out.
Then the offense started to show signs of change. More snaps started occurring from under center, the offensive line started putting a hand on the ground occasionally, and the offensive focus shifted from the QB and WRs to the three-headed RB monster the Steelers had built over the past three seasons with a late third, a late 5th and a 4th round pick.
Heading into week 4, after Rudolph’s first start I argued that the Steelers should learn from the 2004 Steelers, the 2016-2017 Rams and the 2018 Ravens in how to deal with starting a young QB, and talked about how success with a young QB, even a very talented passer, coincides with a higher percentage of running the ball. The Steelers apparently read that article and agreed (obviously), because in the three weeks since the Steelers have the 5th highest percentage of running plays in the NFL, at 49.1%. They did this without their FB Roosevelt Nix and even traded for TE Nick Vannett to bolster their 2 TE sets.
If you look at the breakdown by snap counts, the Steelers the first three weeks averaged 2.97 WRs per snap, while the 3 games after San Francisco they have averaged 2.5 WRs per snap. The Baltimore game was the highest WR usage since San Francisco, and that game stands out as one where the Steelers looked to take advantage of their WR blocking vs the Baltimore secondary. Contrast that with the Los Angeles game where the Steelers used a lot of heavier looks with 1.6 TEs/6thOL per snap in that game when they were attacking San Diego’s lack of speed in their LBs with passes to James Conner.
The game against Cincinnati featured 1.2 RBs per play, with 12 more RB snaps than there were offensive plays, with 7 of those snaps accounting for wildcat plays.
It is clear that the Steelers aren’t just running the ball more, but for three straight weeks have run their offense with a heavier focus on exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses, while the defense has been superb.
Apparently the Steelers are capable of making a big trade or two, they are able to adapt their offense to attack the opposing team’s weaknesses, and the defense is able to succeed under Tomlin and Butler.
Which makes the real question, what was stopping them from doing it before?
Feel free to chime in with your opinion below!