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%
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