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2020 Steelers Replay, Week 1: Benny Snell’s big day shows the keys to running the ball

What we can learn looking back at Benny Snell’s big game against the Giants.

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

To start the offseason, I’m going to take a look at each week of the Steelers season, and focus on a player that made an impact in that week, and what their film teaches us about the Steelers in 2020. It won’t just be about that player, but more an evaluation of what the Steelers did right, what they did wrong, and what they need to focus on heading into the 2021 season.

For Week 1, Benny Snell is an easy choice. He came in to the game in the second quarter and took over the game, running for 113 yards, the only 100 yard rushing game of his short career. It’s also a nice start to revisiting this season where the run game fell apart so spectacularly by looking at what went so right for Benny Snell in Week 1.

Week 1, 2nd quarter, 11:08. Benny Snell is the running back, Vance McDonald is the tight end (second from left)

Benny Snell showed improved quickness right away on this outside run, and delivers a shot to the cornerback at the end of the run. A key block on this run is the double team from Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald on the defensive end and Vance McDonald getting off the double team to the second level to slow down middle linebacker Blake Martinez, taking him out of the play.

Week 1, 2nd quarter 12:35. Benny Snell is the running back, Stefan Wisniewski is the guard to the left side of the screen.

On the opposite side of the coin, on this play Stefan Wisniewski gets stuck on the double team with Maurkice Pouncey and Blake Martinez is free to make the play on Benny Snell.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 14:18. Benny Snell is the running back, Zach Banner is the tackle to the left of the screen.

Zach Banner gets to the second level, blocks Martinez and Benny Snell is running loose in the secondary. You can see the trend, Benny Snell ran well when the Steelers blockers got off the double teams to the second level, got almost nothing when they didn’t.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 13:41. Benny Snell is the running back, Eric Ebron is the tight end to the left side of the screen.

I love this play design, and the work both Eric Ebron and Matt Feiler do on this play. Ebron starts outside, drawing the defensive end’s attention, then heads upfield like he’s running a route, only to block the middle linebacker. Ebron causes the defensive end to pause, and that sets up the block from Feiler and Snell cuts upfield for a solid gain.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 12:59. Benny Snell is the running back, Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

This play doesn’t go well, and it shows one of my consistent criticisms of the Steeler running backs. Benny Snell cuts a full 2 yards when he changes direction, and is tackled with plenty of room between himself and Maurkice Pouncey. Running tighter to the offensive line makes it harder for the defense to tackle you, and would have added solid yards onto this run.

Also, Snell wastes fantastic work from Pouncey to get out of the lane in two steps. Watch it in slow motion.

Look at Pouncey go from driving the tackle out of the way to getting skinny and leaving Snell with plenty of room to run. Look at when Snell gets parallel to Pouncey, he could have just run straight upfield and the space would have been there. It just requires trust and a little more patience. I’ll go even farther than that, because if Snell is right behind Pouncey, he either gets this lane, or he gets a lane outside, #94 can’t cover both lanes while being double teamed, and Pouncey is trying to get off that block, but it’s already too late.

So while the lineman need to do a better job getting to the second level, there are also times where the backs don’t have the patience or trust to use the lanes that are there.

Week 1, 3rd quarter, 2:46. Benny Snell is the running back, Zach Banner is the tackle to the left side of the screen.

Love the job Banner does on this play, provides help to DeCastro and gets upfield where he is a big man to try and get around, he doesn’t even nail the block, he doesn’t have to, he’s big enough to get in people’s way and take them out of the play.

Also take a moment and watch the defensive back to the right side of the screen as the clip starts. That DB started to follow JuJu Smith-Schuster’s motion, then goes back. Smith-Schuster blocks the outside corner and Snell just has to out run the linebackers that the line has slowed down. If you look at most of the runs in this film room you will see motion (or at least the end of it), several others had motion, but the Steelers waited two seconds to snap the ball so I cut it out of the clips.

Motion was a consistent part of the offense early on, and at the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse, it is a key to the offense in 2021. The Steelers were a top ten rushing team for the first third of the season when they were using motion heavily. They need to invest in it, and not give up on it in 2021.

Week 1, 4th quarter, 9:00. Benny Snell is the running back.

Gotta love this run. Benny Snell sees Zach Banner driving a defender back and dives under Banner’s arms for a 5-yard gain. Just find any hole you can and get yards. A five yard run is a win for the offense.

Week 1, 4th quarter, 6:56. Benny Snell is the running back, Alejandro Villanueva is the tackle to the left side of the screen.

Wanted to show a little love for the other side of the line, Alejandro Villanueva isn’t a great run blocker, but he does a good job on this play. Villanueva has done a fantastic job protecting Ben Roethlisberger over the years, and has held his own with many great pass rushers, if he doesn’t return, the Steelers will have a hard time replacing him.

Benny Snell’s great week 1 game had far more to do with the Steelers scheme and execution than it did Benny Snell’s talents. But it is worth noting that Snell has the ability to give a team good play if the offense is well designed and executed.

Re-watching this game is a good reminder that Zach Banner could be the answer at right tackle for the Steelers. If he can bounce back from injury, he brings energy, power and size to the right tackle position that Steeler fans crave. He consistently showed the ability to move a defender and get off double team blocks to reach the second level, something Chuks Okorafor and Matt Feiler don’t do as well.

The takeaway from this film room is the Steelers, with better scheme and execution, can have success running the ball, even with Benny Snell. They need to invest in using motion and keep it going all year, and they need to be more consistent at getting blockers to the second level on their zone runs. That might be achieved with a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach, or it might require adding talent via free agency or the draft, but however they do it, it needs to happen. because the difference between the Steelers offense that was running the ball well and the offense that wasn’t was huge and it wrecked the season.