By now, we all know that the Steelers met with utter failure when trying to run the ball against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers not being able to run the ball is like Jeff Gordon not being able to drive, or Michael Phelps not being able to swim. Running the ball is what the Steelers do.
The Steelers have historically subscribed to two key principles:
- Run the ball.
- Stop the run.
The Steelers’ defense seems to be having no problem in upholding their end of the deal. They did a good job of stopping the run. They held Tennessee’s talented tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White to a combined 85 rushing yards.
Contrarily, the Steelers’ offense didn’t quite get it done. They delivered 36 total rushing yards. Nope, you didn’t read that wrong. I said 36 yards……total. With a feeble offensive output like that, the Steelers may want to consider bringing back #36. After all, it seems like the team has struggled in the running game since he retired.
So what’s wrong with the Steelers running game? Why can’t they gain yards on the ground?
The easy answer is to point at the offensive line. After all, they seem to be everybody’s whipping boys. And to be honest, some of the blame does belong to the offensive line. Their struggles are well-documented.
Following the game, Max Starks blamed the offensive line’s difficulties on the fact that the Titans play a 4-3 defense. ”If we played a 3-4 team right now, we’d be great. We don’t play a 4-3 team that often, especially in training camp. All you see is virtually 3-4.”
Ummmmm Max, you’re kidding right? You do realize that MOST teams in the NFL play a 4-3 defense, not a 3-4. So if the Steelers can’t handle a 4-3 defense, then we are in for a loooong season. Oh by the way, the Steelers happen to play the Chicago Bears next week. They play a 4-3 defense. Following the Bears, the Steelers face the Cincinnati Bengals, another 4-3 team.
As I said earlier, the offensive line played a role in the Steelers struggles to run the ball, but they weren’t completely responsible. Another important factor was the Tennessee Titans. They happened to have the 6th ranked defense against the run last season. They allowed only 93.9 yards/game during the 2008 regular season. That’s pretty good.
The Titans clearly came in with the idea that the way to beat the Steelers was to stop their running game. The Titans often brought 8 men to the line to stop the run. They seemed to be daring Ben Roethlisberger to beat them through the air (which he ultimately did).
The final factor that contributed to the Steelers’ difficulties was Willie Parker. Parker has been nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out of most of the preseason. Parker got no carries against the Arizona Cardinals in the first preseason game. He got 4 carries against the Washington Redskins in the second preseason game. Then he sat out the final two preseason games. So Parker entered the regular season with a grand total of 4 preseason rushing attempts. That’s not enough to get anyone ready for the NFL season.
In addition to Parker’s lack of carries during the preseason, he was also struggling at the end of the 2008 season. In the Super Bowl, Parker rushed 19 times for a total of 53 yards. Moreover, he got 15 yards on one of those carries. When you subtract that lone long run, he got 38 yards on 18 carries. That’s an average of 2.1 yards/carry. Not good. Not good at all.
In the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, Parker gained 47 yards on 24 carries. That averages out to 1.96 yards/carry.
So in the final 2 games of the 2008 season, Parker averaged approximately 2.0 yards per carry. He then missed most of the 2009 preseason.
So as we can see, there are multiple factors contributing to the Steelers’ woes in the running game.
While it is natural for fans to want to see drastic improvement by the Steelers, there really is no magic bullet. We can’t make dramatic changes to the offensive line. After all, they’re the only offensive line that we have.
Willie Parker is also going to have to play better. Fans are already starting to call for Isaac Redman to be called up from the practice squad. However, with the limited number of carries that Parker got in the preseason, fans are just going to have to be patient as he plays himself back into mid-season form.
And of course, the opposition isn’t going to go easy on us despite our struggles. Next week the Steelers face the Chicago Bears. They were the #5 defense against the run last season. That’s even better than the Titans’ defense. I’ll bet the Bears have taken note of the Steelers’ difficulties running the ball, and will plan to exploit that weakness next week.
Steelers fans are a very knowledgeable bunch. I’m sure that they’ve noticed that it was the passing game that won the Super Bowl for the Steelers. Similarly, it was the passing game that won the game against the Tennessee Titans.
Until the Steelers figure out how to fix the problems in their running game, I recommend that they make a temporary amendment to their key principles. I suggest that the principles be altered to the following:
- Pass the ball.
- Stop the run.
All in favor say “aye”.
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