Steelers Running Game & Lack Of Directional Balance The Last Three Seasons

One thing that has been noticeably different since Alan Faneca left the Pittsburgh Steelers is the ability of the offense to be balanced directionally as far as running plays go. With the drafting of Stanford guard David DeCastro and the move of Willie Colon from right tackle to left guard now, the Steelers offense will hope to be much more balanced than the previous three seasons.

Since Faneca left, the Steelers have had problems finding any semblance of productive stability on the offensive line thanks to injuries and inconsistent play. The first course of action was to shore up the center position when they drafted Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. The second course of action was the drafting of Marcus Gilbert in 2011 and the third course of action took place this past April with the selections of DeCastro and Mike Adams, and the subsequent move of Colon inside.

Offensive line coach Sean Kugler has juggled so many line combinations since arriving from Buffalo that he could serve as center ring circus act. He should be commended for getting what he has out of the offensive line the last two seasons.

Over the last three seasons the Steelers running backs have rushed for 5016 yards on 1183 non-penalty carries for an average of 4.24 a carry. That number, according to my stats for all running backs over those three years, comes in just under the league average of 4.27 yards per carry. Not too bad considering all of the variables.

Since Faneca left, Chris Kemoeatu has been the primary left guard and there has been a merry-go-round at right guard and both tackle spots. Kemoeatu was never a great straight ahead run blocker, and while his trapping ability was the best part of his game, it was wildly inconsistent. The Steelers ability to trap right to left is also something that has been both non existent and inconsistent over the recent years. DeCastro and Colon should fix all of this and a healthy Pouncey should also magnify the abilities of both.

Colon has made it known since his move inside that you will see both guards pulling quite a bit and that is a welcomed thought. While Colon is new to the position, he should be an improvement over Kemoeatu in every facet of his game and DeCastro is, well, DeCastro. If I have to explain this it means you haven\’t seen any of his college tape.

So enough about what is coming. Let\’s look at the Steelers running backs by direction the last three seasons. Keep in mind that the stats below are pulled from the play by plays of all the regular season games. Also keep in mind that these can be somewhat subjective, and we also have no way of knowing where a play was designed to go. What the stats show is a broad based snapshot, but they are pretty telling.

To clarify a few things. A run is considered a success by a running back in the stats below when he picks up 40% of the yards needed on first down, 60% of the yards needed on second down and 100% of the yards needed on both third and fourth down. Stuffs are plays that go for zero or negative yards.

You can see that last year alone that the Steelers running backs ran to the right 52% of the time for a 4.74 yards per carry with a 55% success rate. Although they had a 54% success rate to the left side and a 4.48 yards per carry, the stuff rate was 25%. That means that one out of every four runs to the left went for zero or negative yardage. Runs to right guard and right tackle was really the bread and butter as it accounted for 46% of all runs. They had a 55% success rate those two directions with only an 18% stuff rate.

In 2010 the offense attempted to be a bit more balanced directionally, but the success to left side just was not there. It also wasn\’t good up the middle either, Kemoeatu anyone? Just look at the success and stuff rates when running to left tackle and left guard. Also look at the yards per carry from center to left tackle. Ramon Foster and Flozell Adams both deserve a gold star for the work the did on the right side that season along with tight end Heath Miller. That team actually made it to the Super Bowl.

In 2009 the team was heavy to the right side again with 51% of all runs by running backs logged to the right side. They managed 4.74 yards per carry to the right that year with just an 18% stuff rate.

By looking at all of these stats from the last three seasons from several angles, you can see that the Steelers focus is to return to some semblance of balance with a strong success rate and a low stuff rate. No brainer there. The interior of the Steelers line should be the best it has been in years, even with a rookie in the mix and a former right tackle at left guard. The wild card still remains both tackle spots, but Gilbert showed his ability to be a good run blocking right tackle last year and thus the Steelers likely hope Adams can win the left tackle spot outright so that he can stay on the right side, where he should only get better.

This will be one of the many things that I will monitor this season and a more balanced run game directionally should open up the passing game even more for Ben Roethlisberger and keep him off the ground much more in addition.

Steelers Running Back Stats By Direction 2009-2011

DIR %3%6%9%30%29%17%6%
SUC %20%60%59%46%58%51%54%
STF %50%24%18%22%17%19%21%
DIR %18%30%52%
SUC %54%46%55%
STF %25%22%18%
DIR %3%12%17%25%20%18%5%
SUC %46%35%43%40%51%40%61%
STF %23%31%29%20%13%19%17%
DIR %32%25%44%
SUC %40%40%48%
STF %29%20%16%
DIR %7%11%10%21%23%19%10%
SUC %46%48%34%40%52%45%44%
STF %18%23%24%17%15%23%14%
DIR %28%21%51%
SUC %42%40%48%
STF %22%17%18%

  • zbluez1

    Like much, if not all, of Steeler Nation it is my hope that revamping the offensive line will mean that we can run effectively to both sides. It will stop teams like the Ravens from consistently slanting toward the rushing lanes on the offensive right side and have to play more straight up, that in turn, will actually help the offensive line have the opportunity to block more effectively and make the running game that much better. An increase of even .5 in Y.P.C. and 10% in success rate would mean a massive change in respect for the Steelers running game. Making the Play action passing game exceedingly more effective, and the whole offense extremely more dangerous to opposing defenses. The NFL is a game of inches, in this case 18 inches and an improvement in just one more attempt in 10 will make a running game go from barely respected to extremely feared.

  • SteelerDave

    Would be interested to see these number for Stanford with DeCastro starting.

    In the season ahead I can see the Steelers run plays following Decastro in a heavy percentage meaning even more to RG/RT and also much more to the left as DeCastro excels at pulling left.


    Dave, once again, you do amazing work that just cannot be found anywhere else. As a Steelers information junkie who is part of the diaspora from Pittsburgh lacking immediate access to the local pulse of Steeler Nation, you have provided a site that has become a life-line. Thank you ever so much and all the best to you and yours on this Memorial Day.

  • Protection9

    Still not sure why Gilbert said not to rule out a move to LT and that would be a dream spot for him to land? Even the most casual Steeler fan understands what the front office was trying to do with this last draft. Obviously everyone has to earn their starting role, but to add drama for dramas sake is confusing. I hope I read that report wrong.

  • SteelSpine

    Thanks for the homework. We already were looking forward to likely-better guard play, & that adds to our optimism of our guard play. Of course all on-paper things go out the window when Ngata & teammates actually line up clogging our line, heheh. Looking forward to see if Steelers could have their way with teams typically tough to run against. Our interior OLine (both guards & center) is best part of our line & should now match-up against interior defenses. It’s our LT spot which is worrisome to me, but thats a different topic, & dealt with aplenty on other threads.

    You are right we werent able to pull right guard. I saw plays where Foster at RG pulling to left, his feet showed too clumsy & slow for that. Then I figured that then limited our selection of types of plays for runs after that. I do like Foster because he proved to be a steal as a free agent rookie filled in at mutiple positions even at tackle as a rookie.

    If our pass defense doesnt suddenly play way better & younger/faster than against Tebow then our improved run game wont matter, if/after teams get a big lead. If our run game is as improved this year as I think it will be, oppenents have more incentive to get a big lead to take our running game out of it. Plus taking our run game out of it will enable defenses to exploit or overload our suspect left OTackle. I know its one thing to say get a big lead & another thing to do it against LeBeau’s Steelers. But expect defenses to watch video, exploit aging Steelers defense like Tebow & Broncos did, test Ike’s speed because Ike looked slower, & test the young CBs on our other side of field & maybe get pass interferences downfield. The only thing left standing in the way of defenses doing that this now, is the magician Dick LeBeau. Will LeBeau’s smoke-&-mirrors cover up for so many positions on our defense that have become shabby? Stay tuned.

  • Pete

    Runs to the right might be skewed a bit because while Flozell Adams was at RT in 2010, the Steelers ended up no.2 in the league running over RT. That has been the only shining light for the O line over the past 3 years. Hopefully this all changes with the new O line.

  • Jprankster2005

    I don’t think it’s drama, I think it’s competion, U need competion to be a good team…. If he thinks he can do a better job prove it and if he doesn’t put the person that proved there self…… The starting LT this yr. might not even be a signed player yet…. It could very well be Starks job if he get’s healthy and can prove himself to be better… But I think the Job is Adams, Hopefully at the start of the season…… I would like to see Adams, Gilbert at the two tackles, Colon,Decastro at Guard and Pouncey for sure….. Then u still got a good player in Foster that can come in for injury as well as Starks,Essex and Legursky, I named 9 OL not sure how many they keep on the roster but I know it isn’t more than 9……. So Scott should be gone unless we see 2 injuries or he comes in and shows something completely different then he has in the past…… Plus u still got young guys that could fight for a spot and win out, You never know…… But I def. love the competion….. As I loved Lewis say he would be a pro bowl CB this yr….. You gotta love those remarks…. Because that means they got something to prove…… We got the top 5 OL locked up for atleast the next 3 yrs…… I think they should give Foster a 2 or 3 yr. contract as well as Lewis, because they will probably demand more when FA’s……. Just my thought sorry to blab on and on…… But you gotta love the players that don’t want to settle…….

  • Jprankster2005

    Just curous dave how many OL guys do the Steelers usually keep on the team? I was thinking can’t be no more than 9 and with, Foster,Gilbert,Decastro,Adams,Colon,Pouncey,Legursky,Essex, and if they sign Starks back that would be 9……. That’s of course if noone get’s hurt….. Just was curious if you could answner or if someone else knew…… Wonder if there’s any chance of a rookie making the team…