One of my favorite things to do when watching football games at Heinz Field from the endzone perspective, was to keep my eyes on Roosevelt Nix as the play started. When Nix was on the field, more often than not, the Pittsburgh Steelers were running the football. When the ball was snapped, he’d explode by running full steam into the hole to destroy whatever defenseman was there, nullifying him. It didn’t matter: defensive linemen, linebackers, safeties, if Nix hit you, there was an audible crack, and that defender was moving backwards.
It was disappointing last year because we only got to enjoy Nix play in one complete game, fully healthy, all season. Week 1 against the New England Patriots, Nix injured his knee in the 4th quarter, and although he finished the game, he would not play for the Steelers again for another six weeks. In the meantime, it took four games for James Conner to surpass 100 total yards rushing on the season, and the best rushing performance prior to the bye week belonged to Benny Snell Jr. and his 75-yard game against the Los Angeles Chargers. On that sunny October day, the Miami Dolphins got to see Roosevelt Nix at his absolute best.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Nix all game; that is until after his job was done, crushing the defender in the hole, so I could enjoy watching Conner continue up the field untouched as he passed Nix. This would be the Steelers single greatest game of rushing the football in 2019. Conner amassed 145 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. The next week against the Indianapolis Colts, Conner was inactive with a shoulder injury from the previous week, and Nix ended up re-injuring his knee in the second half. Trey Edmunds would lead the team in rushing with 73 yards, but the focus was on the short passing game, as Jaylen Samuels tied Le’Veon Bell for the most catches by a Steelers running back with 13.
Nix would not play again for the rest of the year as the Steelers placed him on Injured Reserve two weeks later. Oddly, another fullback was never added to the roster, and Pittsburgh lost their rushing identity without him down the stretch. As teams were crowding the line of scrimmage against their inexperienced quarterbacks, there was no fullback to punch a hole in the opposing defense’s armor. No Steeler running back broke the hundred yard mark in a game for the rest of the year.
The Steelers wanted an improved focus placed on the running game this season. With Nix’s reconstructed knee in doubt, Pittsburgh spent $9.75M on a three-year contract for Derek Watt, brother and former University of Wisconsin teammate of defensive star linebacker, TJ Watt. Not only did the Steelers pick up that hole smashing fullback they lost with Roosevelt Nix, they also gained a special teams ace, and superior receiving threat. Out of all the off-season moves the Steelers made this year, don’t be surprised if the investment in this productive fullback yields a successful rushing attack in 2020.
What do you think was the biggest move the Steelers made to improve their running game? Respond in the comments below!