clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Steelers lack of running game and third-down conversions go hand-in-hand

New, comments

With a high number of unsuccessful runs, the Steelers are at the bottom of the NFL in third and short

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

There are many things the 2019 Steelers offense has struggled with throughout the season. The Steelers have been inconsistent on third downs, and as the distance decreases it feels as if their odds of converting get worse. One possible reason is the Steelers inability to run the ball, especially in short yardage situations.

In this weeks installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at the Steelers’ lack of success on third down based on distance as well as other problems with the running game.


When it comes to third and long for the Steelers, they actually have not been that terrible. On third down plays (or even fourth-down plays where the Steelers went for it), the Steelers have converted 8 of 38 attempts for a 21.1% success rate. This ranks them right in the middle of the NFL at 16th in the league.


As the distance needed to gain a first down decreases, the success rate should naturally increase. When it comes to third or fourth down distances of 6 to 9 yards, the Steelers have a conversion rate of 31.3% as they are 10 of 32. While this percentage is a little over 10% better than 10 yards or more, their rank in the NFL goes down to 20th.


When the Steelers have anywhere between 3 and 5 yards to go on third down or fourth down attempts, they have been successful almost 50% of the time. Converting 16 of 33 attempts, the Steelers have a conversion rate of 48.5% and are ranked 17th in the NFL. Of these 33 attempts, the Steelers have rushed the ball four times and have converted three of them. Ironically, two of the conversions were by quarterback Mason Rudolph.


Here is where the Steelers fall apart. On third and fourth down plays where the Steelers have 2 yards or less to go, their success rate plummets to 32.1%. The Steelers have only converted 9 of 28 chances in 2019 and are ranked dead last in the NFL at this distance. Of the 28 attempts, the Steelers have attempted to rush the ball on 13 of them and have succeeded in only five. Of the five attempts, one was by Mason Rudolph last week, one was by James Conner, and the final three were by Benny Snell Jr. who returns to the lineup this week.


Part of the reason the Steelers cannot convert efficiently on third and short by running the ball is because of the number of plays in which they don’t gain any yards. Of the 228 plays that were deemed rushing attempts according to Pro Football Reference, the Steelers had no gain or lost yardage on 63 of those plays. If kneel down plays are excluded, the number dropped slightly to 55 plays where the Steelers ran the ball and either lost yardage or barely made it to the line of scrimmage.


The 55 plays noted above where the Steelers rushed the ball for a loss or no gain ranks them 27th in the NFL. While this ranking isn’t surprising, what is somewhat shocking is the teams who are ranked lower than the Steelers. Slightly behind them tied for 28th are the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. Coming in at 30th is the Indianapolis Colts and their highly ranked offensive line. The final two spots belong to the only two teams in the league with just a single loss. The New England Patriots have had 58 plays where they did not gain any yardage or lost yardage on a rushing attempts. And the team ranked worst in the NFL when it comes to rushes at or behind the line of scrimmage is the San Francisco 49ers with 72 of said plays.

The most interesting fact behind the 49ers having so many rushing plays which did not gain any yardage is they are second in the league in rushing attempts. So even when the 49ers are not gaining yards in the run game, they continue to stick with it which appears to have paid off based on their 9-1 record.

So there are some numbers when it comes to the Steelers on third or fourth down along with rushes which didn’t gain any yardage. When it comes to Week 12, can the Steelers do a better job in short yardage situations? Can they rush the ball more effectively? Please leave your answers in the comments below!