We live in a world with so much information at our fingertips that sometimes the most difficult thing is figuring out which statements are factual and which are not. With misinformation being spread more rapidly than truth in some circumstances, we have all probably become victims of believing something is true only to find later we have been misguided. Sometimes the truth comes from within ourselves when we believe the conclusion we have drawn without analyzing sufficient data. Regardless, it is always better to have the correct information rather than the alternative.
Anytime I hear the phrase “everybody knows that…” I brace myself for hearing a statement that is most likely inaccurate. Whether or not everybody “knows” what is about to be shared does not necessarily make it true. And being the person who has to constantly correct peoples misinformation can also really rub others the wrong way.
But are we Steelers fans’ sometimes guilty of this when it comes to our beloved team? Of course we are! Granted, many things in our conversations are merely just opinions. Whether the team has a specific need in the draft or if a particular player or coach should be let go, these cannot be classified as “truths.” But sometimes we are forming opinions where there is numerical data which contradict what we like to say.
Let’s look at three common statements which a number of Steelers’ fans have been known to make. The first statement is merely a misstatement of something with is true, the second is something that feels true but isn’t, while the third is an expectation which is much more difficult to achieve than many realize.
Ben Roethlisberger has never had a losing season
This statement is one that I’ve seen shared by a number of Steelers fans. While it’s not true, it merely needs tweaked in order to remain factual. Instead, the following statements are, in fact, true:
Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season as an NFL head coach.
Since drafting Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have never had a losing season.
The difference in these statements which makes them true compared to original statement about Ben Roethlisberger never having a losing record comes down to the 2006 season. After winning the Super Bowl the previous year, Roethlisberger missed the season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins after having an emergency appendectomy a few days prior. With Charlie Batch starting the game and earning the victory, Roethlisberger only went 7-8 the remainder of the season. Therefore, even though the Steelers did, Big Ben did not have a winning record in 2006.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has a chronic fumbling issue
Any true Steeler fans remembers to key fumbles by JuJu Smith Schuster over the last two seasons. The first came in Week 16 of 2018 as the Steelers were driving for either a game-winning touchdown or a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. As Smith-Schuster caught the pass from Ben Roethlisberger and was fighting for yardage at the edge of field-goal range, the ball was dislodged and the Saints recovered only to take the field in victory formation.
Another memorable fumble by Smith-Schuster came in overtime of Week 5 this past season. After head coach Mike Tomlin gambled and kicked off to begin the overtime period, the defense held the Ravens and gave the offense good field position for their first possession in overtime. On the Steelers second offensive play, JuJu caught the ball and ran for the first down only to have it stripped away from him as well as the Steelers victory. The Ravens only gained 6 yards before kicking the game-winning 46-yard field goal.
As memorable as these two fumbles were, it’s hard to think of another one by Smith-Schuster in his NFL career. Frankly, it’s impossible. That’s because these are the only two fumbles he’s ever had as a professional.
To say JuJu is a chronic fumbler would be completely false. To say that JuJu fumbles at the worst possible circumstances is a statement very difficult to dispute.
When looking at Pittsburgh Steelers history, there has never been a player with more than 200 receptions who never had a fumble in the history of the franchise. In fact, the only other player in this category with as few fumbles as Smith-Schuster is Yancey Thigpen. With Thigpen having 12 more receptions for the Steelers, Smith-Schuster will become the team’s all-time leader in fewest fumbles per reception among players who have at least 200 catches. So saying Smith-Schuster fumbles a lot is false, although his few fumbles have been of the game-changing variety.
The Steelers need a feature running back who stays healthy for all 16 games
This statement seems very difficult to refute as it is merely an opinion, but an opinion based on a faulty expectation is difficult to navigate. The key word in this statement is “need.” It would be difficult to argue that having a running back who stayed healthy and productive for every game throughout the season would be fantastic. It just isn’t very realistic in today’s NFL.
Sometimes Steelers’ fans have a tendency to look at their own situation and not realize everything else going on around the league. Although James Conner only appearing in 10 games in 2019 is far below the standard, expecting a running back to play all 16 games is a luxury most NFL teams do not get. Here are some numbers to back it up…
In 2019, only 12 of the 32 running backs who led their team in rushing played in all 16 games. This means 20 NFL teams were without their running back for at least one game during the season. The natural follow-up question to this deals with if a running back was being rested, but this was not the case this season. The biggest argument would be Mark Ingram of the Baltimore Ravens who missed the final week of the season against the Steelers. Although some felt he was merely being rested, his calf injury sustained in Week 16 nearly kept him out of the divisional game against the Tennessee Titans. To say he would have been healthy in week 17 is unrealistic.
There’s even more data to show running backs reaching 16 games in a season and being productive is more the exception and less the rule. Of the 15 running backs who rushed for over 1000 yards in 2019, only seven of them appeared in all 16 games. Dropping the standard to only 750 yards, the numbers get worse as only 10 out of 25 players appeared in every regular season game.
Going back to the 2018 season gives very similar results. Of the nine players who rushed for 1,000 yards, only four appeared in all 16 games. Looking at the 750-yard threshold, it was nine out of 22.
It is apparent, based on the numbers, that a running back appearing in every game of the season has less than a 50% chance. But are the teams who make the playoffs one whose running backs are available? Not really. Of the 12 teams who had their leading rusher appear in all 16 games in 2019, only five of them made the postseason. Additionally, over the last two seasons, only one team— the San Francisco 49ers— has reached the Super Bowl with a leading rusher who appeared in all 16 games. What is interesting about the 49ers is they definitely take a running back by committee approach as their leading rusher Raheem Mostert simply had the most yards only because he appeared in every game. Ironically, he failed to register even one start on the season.
The bottom line is having a running back available every game of the season is truly a luxury in today’s NFL. Rather than focus on “if” an running back will miss a game, it may be better to ask “when” he will be out. What may be more important is having multiple options at the position who are available the majority of the time. There were 19 running backs with 100 rushing attempts or more in 2019, but only 9 of them had 10 starts or more. So having a secondary and productive option available for every game may be the more important and realistic goal.