The past two games for the Pittsburgh Steelers have been two wins for the black and gold. Not a coincidence, the past two weeks have seen the team return to the power running game.
So, what has changed in the last two games which wasn’t happening prior? The answer is simply personnel.
When looking at snap totals for the Week 12 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers have started to deploy both Roosevelt Nix and Chris Hubbard more and more to give the offense more blockers to open up holes for Le’Veon Bell.
In this past game, Pittsburgh used Nix for 15 snaps, and Hubbard for 12. This isn’t indicative of a team who had a lot of red-zone trips where the goal line offense is used. On Thanksgiving night, the Steelers had just one red-zone trip, which equated in a Bell touchdown run.
It isn’t just Nix and Hubbard, but also the tight ends who are used. Jesse James (41 snaps) continues to be the team’s No. 1 tight end, with Ladarius Green (14 snaps) and David Johnson (12 snaps) seeing increased playing time out of the 54 offensive plays on Thursday night.
On the flip side, the decimated wide receiving corps has hindered the team’s ability to put more receivers on the field; therefore, allowing them to focus more on the running game.
With a full deployment of receivers, it would be normal to see Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates on the field in any number of different receiver sets. Wheaton has been placed on injured reserve and Heyward-Bey and Coates have been dealing with injuries. Now, the Brown, Rogers and Cobi Hamilton trio are as good as it gets for the Steelers.
In fact, when the team wants to go 4-wide, they often move Le’Veon Bell to the slot and put Fitzgerald Toussaint in the backfield. Since those situations are rare with their current personnel available, the Steelers have been focusing on the run-heavy sets, and fans should be okay with this.
Great offenses can send in an extra tackle, signaling to the defense exactly what you are going to do, and still run the ball down your throat. They have the line and running back to do so, and it seems obvious this is what they’ve been focusing on the past two weeks. Not shockingly, the Steelers have won both of those games they have put more attention on running the football.
For a full list of snap counts, see the chart below, courtesy of Pro-Football Reference: