Will the Steelers running game improve next season?

NBC Sports

By: CJ Lester
SteelerNation.com

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 running game wasn’t the best by any means. For the team’s record to improve and in order to get the end result we all want (which is holding up our 7th Lombardi trophy), the offense’s running game has to improve from a season ago. Did the team do enough to ensure an improved running offense?

In 2019, the team ranked 29th in the league in total rushing yards with 1,447 yards and 29th in rushing yards per game with 90.4 yards. There are several factors of why the team ranked so low in terms of rushing yards. The season-ending injury to QB Ben Roethlisberger impacted the team heavily as we all know. Opposing defenses were aware of the inexperienced quarterbacks the team had under center, so they would tend to stack the box against the Steelers pretty heavily each game. This made it that much more difficult to run the ball. Another factor that contributed to a struggling running game was the injuries. James Conner missed a total of six games, Jaylen Samuels missed two games, and Benny Snell Jr. missed three games. No running back on the roster was able to get near the 1,000-yard rushing mark a season ago. Conner led the team in rushing even with missing time due to injury. Conner totaled 464 yards on 116 carries, Snell finished a promising rookie year with 426 yards on 108 carries, and Samuels finished the year with 175 yards on 66 carries.

The Steelers added several pieces during the off-season. Roethlisberger should definitely be happy with the weapons added on offense. The team added TE Eric Ebron, FB Derek Watt, and OL Stefen Wisniewski through free agency and WR Chase Claypool, RB Anthony McFarland, and OL Kevin Dotson through the NFL Draft. Will the additions on offense and the return of Big Ben be enough to improve the Steelers running game specifically?

Overall, I think the offense will improve from a season ago and I think that is a no-brainer! As for the running game, there are still a lot of Steeler fans wondering if the team did enough this off-season for the team to improve in that area. We all know that a team must have a complimentary run game for that team to be successful, even if the team runs a pass heavy offense. I believe the team will be more balanced with the return of Roethlisberger and the additions on offense. Wisniewski, who provides more veteran leadership, will help the offensive line whether it will be as a starter or a backup, and Dotson adds youth and a lot of power to that offensive line room. There’s a lot of competitions that will take place during training camp and the preseason in that offensive line room. Watt will be a contributor on offense as well, whether it will be as a lead blocker on power running plays, or as a utility fullback. He has shown that he has the ability to do both! Ebron and Claypool will provide Roethlisberger with two more weapons to help stretch the field vertically. Last but not least, McFarland will be able to contribute to the offense as well. He provides traits that are unlike any other running back already on the roster. He is a speed demon, who is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. A lot of Steeler fans were upset that the team didn’t draft a running back higher in the draft, but when you sit down and watch what McFarland has done at the collegiate level, you should be wowed.

A lot of fans and analysts had running back as a much higher need going into the draft than what the organization did. I whole-heartedly believe the Steelers grabbed the guy they wanted all along in McFarland. They wanted to add a complimentary piece in the backfield and focus on more of a running back by committee approach. Four capable running backs sharing the load should minimize injuries as well. The team has expressed that they already had an NFL- starting running back capable of carrying the load already on the roster before the draft and that they do. People tend to forget that Conner made the Pro Bowl in the 2018 season. As long as he stays healthy, look for him to have a bounce back year. So why will the Steelers running game improve next season? It’s simple, it has to! 29th in the league in rushing is just unacceptable. The team has the weapons for the passing game to compliment the running game and vice versa. The team did a lot to help the running game improve even if it wasn’t adding a top RB in the draft. People lose sight of all the contributing factors to a successful running game and focus solely on a top running back in the draft or on the free agent market.

Even though the team didn’t draft a top running back in this year’s draft or sign a top free agent running back, everyone can still breathe a sigh of relief. The team’s running game will improve next season and it will be due to several factors. The return of Roethlisberger will help tremendously as we all are impatiently waiting for, the addition of several weapons during the off-season will open up the offense more, and as long as the running backs on the roster can stay healthy, they will be very hard to defend. Good teams are able to compliment positions in order for that position group to be successful instead of completely overhauling a position group. The Steelers did that this off-season, especially for the running game.

Did the Steelers do enough for the running game to improve in the 2020 season? Sound off in the comments section below, on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

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