Film Room: Run-Blocking Still Not Where It Should Be

It’s an easy narrative to say that when the running game is underperforming, the running back is to blame. After all, he is the one doing the running. And so as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ground game has gotten off to something less than a running start, he has been an easy target of criticism.

No that it is entirely undeserved. While the offense has had difficulty opening a lot of holes for him to work with, the reality is that he has done a poor job of creating his own offense. I don’t know if he has even broken three or four tackles through three games.

Still, there are many instances in which there is just not a lot that a running back can do other than to get what is being blocked for him, and while Sunday’s performance had been better than in the two previous games—he actually averaged four yards per rush—many of his carries fell into this category.

Take, for example, one of his few short-yardage failures on the year, though it was not on a possession down. On second and three, Bell only managed one. But with the linebacker lurking over the A Gap and Roosevelt Nix blown back by the edge defender, he didn’t have any options.

Or take the carry just two snaps later. On second and 10, he was given the ball out of the shotgun in the right sidecar position with Chris Hubbard at right tackle pulling through the leftside B Gap. With Ramon Foster getting driven back and Alejandro Villanueva struggling to hold off the edge, all he could hope to do was try to squeeze between the narrow crease for two yards. Even the cutback lane was shut off with the linebacker evading Maurkice Pouncey at the second level.

Later in the third quarter, the Steelers tried to run from a two-tight-end set, heavy to the right. Bell showed his typical patience behind the line, and it looked like it might pay off, showing a hint of daylight up the gut, but the inside tight end—Xavier Grimble in this case—couldn’t hold his block, ripping to the inside and making the tackle.

At the top of the fourth quarter, they tried to pull B.J. Finney off the right end, but Hubbard seemed to momentarily lose focus, looking out for another defender, which allowed the edge defender to break free, chasing down Bell as he had to try to get north with JuJu Smith-Schuster unable to hit on his downfield block.

I think that these plays do well in showing just how much frequently goes into building a successful running play—or perhaps more crucially, executing it. The execution has gotten better week by week—I shouldn’t have to point out that this is a selection of bad examples, not a representative sample—but there is still clear need for improvement.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • srdan

    we need receivers that are college open and lanes that a bus can drive through.

    Alex, do you think that defenses have studied tape and adjusted to his style? Do you see the same burst? I ask this as a ff owner that’s about to put him on the block!

  • NCSteel

    I’ve been as critical as anyone but I also realize under Coach T.
    2 things you can be sure of..
    1.) You have a 50/50 chance of losing to lousy teams.
    2.) The team improves as the year goes on.
    I get it, it’s not just Bell, it’s the guys up front too.
    And the up and down passing game, on and on..
    I guess it’s time to catch a breat and look for improvement next week but what a beautiful opportunity was wasted last weekend with Baltimore and the rest of the division losing.

  • falconsaftey43

    Honestly, he looks the same to me. But doesn’t much matter if there is poor blocking in front of him. They haven’t been getting him the ball much through the air either. That said, as far as FF, it’s never good to sell low.

    FYI, Ben’s agressive% (% of throws to a WR with a defender with 1 yard) is 8th lowest. He is for sure looking for guys college open most of the time.

  • WreckIess

    I said it before, but it doesn’t matter who the back is, they’re not getting very many yards with how the OL has blocked so far. Like Marczi said, it’s easy to blame it on Bell missing camp, but that’s just not it. He’s exploding the same, he’s juking the same, he’s still hurdling guys. The only difference is the OL.

  • nutty32

    Might be nice to line up and just run power for a good bit, win-lose-or-draw, solely to get the OL pumped and aggressive instead of being human punching bags pass blocking & blocking Bell’s patient run style.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    This line is overrated. Fact is they are not powerful enough go hat on a hat. This nothing new. Under Tomlin the line has never been truly physical. Last year they were finesse like with a back skilled enough to take advantage of it. Moreover Bell got a lot on his own. Like it or not he did and has been since he came here. Now there is whole year of film teams can use for study and preparation. Unless the line grows a pair this year will be a tough one. Good O-lines make average running backs and quarter backs look good. The Steelers actually have real offensive talent but a limited O-line.