“Smash mouth football.”
“Ground and pound.”
”3 yards and a cloud of dust.”
Those phrases are sure to conjure up certain images to a Steelers fan. For sure one of them would be Jerome Bettis running over Brian Urlacher as he crossed the goal line in 2005. Many fans who love that style of football may also remember FB Dan Kreider pancaking Ray Lewis. A physical running game had always been part of the Steelers identity.
Not so much anymore. The league is far more pass oriented. The Steelers, with a top-level QB in Roethlisberger, and one of the best WR’s in the business in Antonio Brown, have followed suit. The Steelers can run the ball effectively when they are so inclined. Enter Rosie Nix.
Due to a back injury sustained toward the end of training camp, Nix was inactive the first 5 games of the season. He saw limited action in his 4 games (Nix was inactive vs the Ravens in Week 9 as well), totaling only 13 offensive snaps. He surpassed that total in 1 game vs the Colts with 15 snaps as the Steelers put up their second highest rushing yards of the season.
Nix brings more than production to the run game. We’ll see that in our first play that we’ll look at:
We see that Nix does a good job of getting square to the LB, sustaining the block, and finishing. Notice after the play is over, however. Nix is pumped, clapping his hands as he goes over to assist Bell to his feet.
We see that same enthusiasm on our next play, perhaps my favorite from the Colts game. The Steelers are backed up deep in their own end following a goal line stand by their defense. They need to pound out some room. Nix made sure they did:
Nix again does a superb job on his block, as Bell cuts off it for a big 8 yard gain. Rosie doesn’t stop after Bell clears him, though. He finishes by putting Colts LB D’Qwell Jackson to the turf. The arm pump after the play shows just how much Nix enjoys flattening defenders.
That affinity for contact is a must in the run game, particularly when the defense knows what’s coming. And the Colts more than likely knew the Steelers were going to run with Nix in the game. Of Nix’s 14 (1 play was negated by penalty) snaps, the Steelers ran the ball 13 times. By my account, Nix was “successful” in his assignment on 9 of those. Most of them had Rosie as a lead blocker, how we normally envision a FB on a running play.
There were 3 plays where Nix was used more as a HB/TE. One of them drew my interest. Before I show that play, I want to refresh your memory, using a play that we highlighted in our Film Room session on the TE’s from Week 1:
This is a “split-zone” run. The O-line zone blocks with the TE coming across the formation to cut off any backside pursuit. DeAngelo picked up a nice gain cutting off of David Johnson’s block.
Now we’ll look at this play against the Colts:
I think it’s clear this is the same play. Bell takes it outside whereas Deangelo had cut inside of the block. What I like about the Steelers running it with Nix:
-As Nix moves toward the LOS (although it’s brief), it may hold the LB’s an extra split second
-Running the same play from a different formation gives the defense a different look to defend. Adding a new wrinkle is a necessary ingredient for any offense to be successful
-It’s Nix, our best skull-cracker. Seriously, he is likely our best “move” blocker among the TE’s/HB’s.
Nix had been used sparingly to this point. My guess would be hadn’t been fully healthy. His 15 snaps vs the Colts fall fairly in line with his use from 2015.
As I said, Nix wasn’t perfect. In fact the Steelers had better production in the run game without Nix (16 carries, 88 yards, 5.5 yard average, 1 TD), than with Nix (13 carries, 60 yards, 4.6 yard average, 0 TD). Beside the raw numbers, however, Nix brings a physicality and an attitude that is palpable. One of my favorite lines from Vince Lombardi came when he spoke shortly after being named the Packers head coach. (I’m paraphrasing a bit here), “We’re going to run the ball. Because when you run the ball, you get hard-nosed. And the more you run it, the more hard-nosed you get.”
I don’t think anybody would argue with the description of Roosevelt Nix as “hard-nosed.” Do I think the Steelers are going to lean toward a more ground-oriented attack? No. That would not be making good use of their diverse weapons. But they certainly have the capability of having that as an important aspect of their offense. Going forward I expect Nix to be a significant contributor to the running game.