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A Letter From the Editor: Can the age-old Steelers formula still work?

Everyone loves the grind-it-out running game, but is that still a possibility?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, I finished the Jim Wexell book Polamalu, and it was interesting to me how throughout the book it spoke about how Troy Polamalu would grow frustrated with the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Mainly when the offense turned into a more pass-first style offense.

Polamalu, like many fans, believed the team’s best chance at success was to have the offense run the football, control the clock and keep the defense fresh.

Makes sense.

When you look back at the success of the Steelers, it is hard to ignore the fact the years they went on deep runs in the postseason were also years they were successful running the football.

But that isn’t the main question here. The main question is whether or not the old formula, the one Polamalu was always vouching for, can still work in 2022?

First, let’s discuss if that style of offense can even thrive in the National Football League today. The league has become so pass-happy it is difficult to foresee a team who is run-first, and run-heavy, winning it all.

Looking at the last five Super Bowl champions, here is how they ranked in rushing yards per game during the regular season:

2021 — Los Angeles Rams — 25th (99.0)
2020 — Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 28th (94.9)
2019 — Kansas City Chiefs — 23rd (98.1)
2018 — New England Patriots — 5th (127.3)
2017 — Philadelphia Eagles — 3rd (132.2)

As you can see, recent history shows you don’t have to run the football well to win a Super Bowl. It isn’t impossible to do, just look at how the Patriots and Eagles ranked the year they won their titles, but it is far from a prerequisite to success in the league.

I still wonder if a team can rely solely on the run as their main mode of moving the football and win a title, but that’s another story for another time.

Next, I want to see if the Steelers’ current roster, at least on paper, is capable of delivering on the age-old formula of success.

The team absolutely has the running back to get the job done in Najee Harris, but does everything else fit? Or is Najee nothing more than a diamond in some heavy rough?

Matt Canada’s offense is designed to be able to run the football. This has been discussed numerous times here on this very website, and I lean on those who know much more than I will ever know about the game of football when it comes to these things. The team hasn’t had success running the ball under Canada, but this year the coordinator doesn’t have the crutch of saying he doesn’t have the team to get the job done.

In fact, most would argue the complete opposite.

Canada wants a running quarterback who isn’t afraid of going under center, running the football from time to time, is adequate at Run-Pass-Options (RPOs) and can thrive off play-action.

Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Chris Oladokun and even Mason Rudolph fit the aforementioned criteria at the position.

The offensive line last season was atrocious, but the team went out and invested heavily in the interior of the group. Bringing in free agents Mason Cole (C/G) and James Daniels (C/G) doesn’t just give the team options and depth, but also gives them experience and upgrades the interior of the line.

The tackle positions leaves a lot to be desired, but the team clearly has a trust and faith in both Dan Moore Jr. as a second year player, and Chukwuma Okorafor after giving him a new 3-year contract this offseason.

Combine all that together, the trends of the NFL and the current state of the Steelers, and ask yourself the question — Can the Steelers win in that fashion?

Obviously we won’t know whether they are or aren’t capable until the pads go on and the preseason begins, but I’ll say this, this group is much more equipped to get this specific job done than they were a year ago. Not only is Harris more experienced, but the offensive line should be vastly improved too. If there is one NFL trend which never goes out of style, it is the ability to run the football. Teams can win by doing this, and the Steelers might just have to be the next case study in this regard.

(Note: The Letter From the Editor feature runs every Sunday morning during the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason.)