Bad First Impressions From Run Game Keeping Offense Behind The Chains

There is something of an impression that the Pittsburgh Steelers are not running the ball enough. And that might be true. But never the less, because of that, it might surprise you to know that they have run the ball on first down 63 times this season, an average of roughly 12 times a game.

The more important piece of that conversion, however, is inevitably how they performed on first down while running the football. Luckily, I just so happen to have those numbers, so I figured that it would be worthwhile to enter that information into the conversation.

Four of those first-down runs were actually wiped out by penalties, including three holds—on three different players—and one illegal shift. It’s too bad, too, because they averaged 7.75 yards on those four carries. Of course, it helps when you hold.

But let’s focus on the first-down runs that actually counted. There were 59 of those, with all but three of them being at least first and 10. The other three were first and eight and two from the one-yard line on first and goal. Taking all of them together, in terms of yards gained on the carry, the Steelers are only averaging 2.83 yards per carry on first down.

It drops even further if you include a minus-four-yard run on which another 15-yard loss was tacked on due to a post-whistle foul, drooping down to 2.58 yards. And it’s slightly better if you remove the two carries from the one-yard line, up to 2.89 yards per carry. All of them are bad, by the way.

Of the 57 runs from first and eight or longer, the Steelers have astonishingly recorded just twelve successful carries, which would equate to them gaining 45 percent of the needed yardage for a first down or better. So that means that they gained at least five yards on first down just 12 times. Of course, you can throw back to two one-yard plays from the one—touchdowns, that is—for a total of 14 successful first-down runs on 59 carries.

So let’s go with that. what does it work out to? Just a 23.7-percent success rate. That is terrible. The running game is consistently putting the offense in bad down-and-distance situations at a rate of more than three out every four plays on first down. Simply astonishingly bad.

12 of those 57 carries—let’s remove the touchdowns for now—either gained no yardage or lost yardage, including losses of four and five yards. Another 10 runs gained just one yard—again, excluding the touchdowns—nine went for two yards, and 14 went for three or four yards.

Only nine of their first-down runs gained between five and nine yards, and they have had just three runs gain 10 or more yards, with one of them coming on first and 20.

Think about this: on the 59 times that the Steelers ran the ball on first down, they were faced with a second and seven or worse 37 times, or second and six or worse 46 times. If knowing that running on first and down would yield no better than second and six 78 percent of the time, then it really should not be much of a surprise if they might not be inclined to run the ball so frequently.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah I posted something about this yesterday. In simpler numbers, their 1st down rushing avg is 2nd worst. And not surprisingly, they’ve faced the 2nd most 2nd and 8 or longer situations. Hard for an offense to stay with the run or develop any flow when their 1st down offense is nearly the worst in the league. Need to fix that.

  • Paul Rainey

    All of those terrible numbers while employing the highest paid, overpaid, diva, selfish running back in the league. Doesn’t sound so special to me. IMHO

  • Paddy

    So disappointing the line can’t seem to open holes but as pointed out yesterday they get no traction from the TE grouping.

  • falconsaftey43

    Don’t forget they have the 3rd highest paid OL in the league and the blocking has been pretty terrible.

  • Lambert58

    Cannot understand why the OL has had such a drop off from last year. (Gilbert injury aside) I think they should mix in Connor and even Watson a bit more. Maybe B.J. Finney starting tomorrow will actually be a boon to our running game.

    (editors note: nevertheless is one word – sorry to be so pedantic, Matt) 😉

  • John Westbrook

    That’s because Todd Haley’s play calling is not fooling no one. I sit in front of the TV and can tell if it’s run or pass. Haley has been using the same formations every since the day he was hired.

  • AndyR34

    Yes, but that makes it a player execution problem, don’tcha know!

  • John Westbrook

    True, but if they know the offense is going to run the ball then it would make sense to load the box.

  • falconsaftey43

    Next gen stats has Bell running against an 8 man or more front on only 18.6% of carries so far, one of the lowest in the league. So they have not been running it much when teams decide to load the box.

  • John

    The simpler answer is the team is out of sync. I have no inside knowledge. But you can make the argument that the Bell hold out, the AB histrionics, the Anthem antics, and a schedule without any big games except the Ravens contest have the team distracted and focused on too many other things. Having Hubbard play tackle probably has not helped either.

  • Lambert58

    I agree but you’d think they could get back in rhythm after 5 games. Just doesn’t look like the same OL/running game from last year even though it is more or less the same cast of characters. Did defenses figure something out?

  • John

    I am not sure they did. They may have figured out that we are having problems with consistency on the O-Line, that Bell is still rounding into form, and we are playing a WR that did not play for a year and a rookie. They may be gambling more that we cannot get our act together and burn them when they ocercommit. And they have been right so far.

  • AndyR34

    Sorry…forgot to use the sarcasm font!

  • Joe Craig

    You need to break it down a little bit further because I think a lot of those were from the Ravens game, where the ran the ball quite a bit more, a were successeful. Take away that game and Oh-crap!

  • falconsaftey43

    They ran 21 times on first down vs Baltimore for an average of 1.86 yards. One of those was a kneel down. 7 gained at least 4 yards with a long of 7. They had 11/20 non kneel downs go for 2 yards or less.

  • francesco

    Because it is obvious when we run… especially on first down.
    And when we pass…it is a long ball incomplete 80% of the time.

  • francesco

    Yep…saying it for awhile…. the OL is overrated and overpaid.

  • falconsaftey43

    This brings an interesting question, why did they overall have more success on the ground even if they were still bad on 1st down? Well they faced 2nd 8+ 17 times vs BAL. They threw 9 and ran 8 times. Bell averaged 6.67. 5/8 runs we’re successful. Ben went 6 of 9 for 66 yards and 4 1st downs. 4 of 9 pass attempts we’re successful. So they did very well when faced with 2nd and long.

  • falconsaftey43

    Vs JAX in 19 2nd and longs they threw 13 and ran 6. Ben was terrible going 7/13 3 INTs and 3 1st downs. Team averaged 7 yards per rush and 2 1st downs. 3 runs we’re successful. 5 passes we’re successful.

  • Steeler Nation!

    As is the RB

  • Steve

    Steelers are too predictable, which has been said here numerous times. Need to throw a pass on 1st down to keep the D honest. Get the D thinking what you are going to do, then the offense has them on their heels.

  • Steve

    Don’t forget Gilbert has been out the past few weeks, and in his absence, Hubbard has not played well. Once we get all the Oline together, then they will gel.

  • Steve

    No traction?? Very little Blocking from James and when he does go to block, its a “Lookout” block, Lookout there going to kill you. No wonder why James has the cleanest jersey on the line. Only time he falls down is after making a catch, which is not often enough.