Stats are fun to look at. Numbers don’t lie and one of my favorite parts about sports is the having the ability to analyze statistics and use those numbers to measure success and notice patterns. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been known as a ground and pound team since the 1970s. With that said, the last couple of years have been frustrating for fans to watch Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball 40+ times a game without hesitation.
Since the beginning of the 2016 season, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner and now, Najee Harris were in control of the backfield for the most part. With injuries and Bell’s 2018 holdout, guys like DeAngelo Williams, Benny Snell Jr., Stevan Ridley, Trey Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels have all entered a game as the #1 option at running back within the last five years. The offensive line has changed from year to year, but the principle and effort to run the ball is much more important than the big guys up front. It is proven to work and the numbers below will blow your mind when it comes to the #1 running back’s workload.
I went back and looked at every regular season game since Week 1 of 2016. Box score after box score, a common theme began to arise. The Steelers win a lot more than they lose when the starting running back has more 15 or more carries in a single game. Running the ball 15 times a game to the lead back may seem impossible for this offense based on the offensive game plan the last few years, but it is such an easy goal to attain for a team who is averaging 63 plays a game in 2021.
The Steelers are a staggering 42-8-1 since 2016 when the starting running back has more than 15 carries. That is no coincidence. Committing to running the ball opens up the whole offense, not just the rushing attack. It did not matter which one of the running backs listed above was the workhorse that game. That is averaging a record of 14-3 per every 17 games (the current length of the NFL season). On the contrary, the Steelers have managed a record of just 14-21 when the starting back is under that magic number of 15. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots. When the Steelers execute a game plan with a run-first mentality, they win consistently. The team is 3-1 this year when Harris has 15 or more carries and 0-2 when he does not.
The last two weeks, Harris has had 24 and 23 rushing attempts so I took a look at the numbers when a Steelers running back has over 20 carries in a game. Since 2016, the Steelers are near undefeated with a record of 26-2-1. One of those losses was the 2017 showdown with the New England Patriots when Jesse James did, but “didn’t” catch it. The other was a 2016 loss to the Patriots as well.
Running the ball consistently does not just open up the play-action. It changes how teams prepare for the Steelers offense and can absolutely wear down opposing defenses. The instances when the Keith Butler‘s defense has had issues this year has resulted from fatigue and not getting to catch its breath on the sideline.
The Steelers currently have an unbelievably special talent in the backfield. A commitment by Matt Canada to run the football consistently could change the dynamic of the season. The numbers don’t lie and these are especially astounding. Run the dang football!
Do you think the Steelers should commit to giving Harris 15+ carries a game? Let us know in the comments below!