Healthy Marcus Gilbert Giving A Hand To Improved Run Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game experience a midseason deluge, during which they found it difficult to pick up efficient chunks of yardage per carry. Whether they abandoned the run or continued to stick with it, the ground game was not producing, although it must be admitted that the run game in those instances was going up against quality run defenses.

The team put greater emphasis on the run game over the course of the past two games, however, not just in terms of the plays being called, but also in the personnel being used, and there is understandably clear evidence in the end results that this emphasis yielded positive results.

But one of the big reasons, I think, that the running game has been better the past two weeks, not just because of the opponent, has been because right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been playing better as well. Gilbert, of course, has been going through yet another injury-riddled season, dealing with a shoulder injury since the preseason. He missed three games in the middle of the season with a foot injury.

I believe that he is still working his way back into form, and it is probably not purely a coincidence that his first couple of games back have resulted in some of the team’s worst results on the ground. After missing time, however, and now getting his legs back under him, he is reasserting himself and playing well, and it has been helping to make a difference, both in pass protection and in the running game.

It should be noted that a lot of the Steelers’ yardage on the ground over the course of the past two weeks has actually come from around the edge, either around left or right tackle or off of either edge. In that span, on runs that are designated as having been run off right tackle or right end, the Steelers are averaging better than five yards per carry, including three rushes that have gone for double figures, though, amazingly, they have not broken a long run in quite a while. Perhaps that is coming up soon.

While the offense did not necessarily perform poorly with Chris Hubbard in the lineup for three games as an injury replacement starter for Gilbert—in fact, I have been highly complimentary about his performance filling in—his work in the passing game was clearly better than his work on the ground.

Even though the past two games have come against teams with weak rushing defenses, I still think that it would be fair to say that it represents a beginning of a turning of the corner. Not only is Gilbert back into form, they also finally have their stable of tight ends they have been looking for all year.

The Giants defense is going to pose a significant challenge for the Steelers’ newfound running game, but if they can keep up the momentum they have built, they could at least potentially keep themselves in a two-dimensional offensive game plan that allows them to run the ball.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    What is the key to neutralizing the NYG’s Dline?

  • RickM

    I don’t buy that the improvement was because he was healthier in Cleveland and Indianapolis than say the Baltimore and N.E. games (I assume those are the two “bad games” you reference). I think it was 90% the level of opposition the last two weeks. But I respect you feel that both played a part. Either way, he’s a welcome addition/improvement to the O-line.

  • VaDave

    I love seeing him pulling to the weak side. If he stays healthy, look for more of that.

  • VaDave

    Pouncey and DeCastro need to man up and take care of business. I hope we don’t abandon the counter plays that we typically avoid when going up against stout DLs. Running to the weak side is key. Foster and Pouncey have to make those back side cut off blocks so DeCastro can pull.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That’s tough, but I think VaDave is largely right. Both Pierre-Paul and Vernon play the run well, but the heart and soul of that run defense is right up the middle with Hankins and Harrison. I think it’s going to call for a lot of double teams up the middle and a fullback when working up the middle. But they’ve also had success running off the edge the past two weeks, and the Giants’ cornerbacks are not the most physical. Tight ends on the move and pulling guards will be important there

  • AndyR34

    Matthew – Nice observation on Gilbert. And it appears that AV has his legs back under him as well. This will be a true test, as we don’t do well against a 4-3 defense typically.