Steelers offense willing to “give it”, move it, however they choose
Last weekend, in their Week 10 AFC North matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, there was a renewed expression among fans and commentators about the lack of effective “run game” the Pittsburgh Steelers offense seemed to be putting on the field. And there were also plenty of complaints that Randy Fichtner called for too many rushing plays that just weren’t working. To top that off, there were people that were begging the Steelers to both stop trying to run being countered by fans asking for more runs instead of emptying the backfield, or the “empty set” scheme, and passing on every down.
As Steelers Nation receives the gift of a 9-0 season for the first time in franchise history, they still can’t seem to come to a consensus on what, in this 2020 Steelers offense, they should be satisfied with beyond the big, highlight-reel plays. To help put things into perspective, however, head coach Mike Tomlin may have said it best.
“We can give it to you however you want it,” Tomlin said about opponents. “If you want to pack the line of scrimmage, we’re going to throw it. You play two high safeties, we’re capable of running it. We want to be able to move it however we choose…”
Interestingly enough, the Steelers took multiple postgame questions from the media as to whether the team “really needed to run” the ball; so much so that it drew the following response from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:
“I think you have to be able to do it when you need to do it,” Big Ben said after throwing for 333 yards and the offense putting together just 44 yards of rushing. “Obviously, we didn’t run the ball well but we did other things well. We put points on the board. We scored when we needed to score. We converted when we had to do that.”
Roethlisberger was so invested in keeping things going once the offense got into a rhythm that he petitioned to get receiver James Washington more involved in the offense. “There was a time when I was yelling to get James in the game,” Roethlisberger admitted. “It’s really fun because a lot of times people talk about, ‘Oh, is there not enough footballs to go around?’ I don’t sense that at all… we’re just having a lot of fun with it.”
“We shouldn’t get so caught up in yards per carry or total yards rushing or things like that,” Tomlin emphasized after the win over Cincinnati, “because it really comes down to winning football games first, which we did, and everything kind of falls into place from there.”
Due to the increased, continuing perception that the Steelers can’t move the ball on the ground, something SCU head guru Joe Kuzma addressed, in part, in an article earlier todaySCU head guru Joe Kuzma addressed, in part, in an article earlier today, Tomlin got right to it in his Tuesday press conference with members of the media, saying, “The biggest significant component or analysis or critique of the game (against Cincinnati) is our ineffective running game, and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that in an effort to move forward.”
Many fans and critics will assume that means that Tomlin is admitting that their game plan, especially in their usage of the run game, is lacking. That might actually be an incorrect assumption, however.
Tomlin and the Steelers know what is being said about their team. They know how the team is performing on the field. They understand perception. Above all, they understand that they’re under scrutiny, deserved or not, when it comes to how a game performance is perceived by the public who do not necessarily understand that you can’t take a statement from Roethlisberger that they were playing backyard football with no real game plan and think that is not a little tongue-in-cheek.
Tomlin did acknowledge that there are moments in seasons where there are “lulls” in certain areas and that requirements to recenter “energy and focus and attention” become necessary. “I believe that’s where we are in regards to the run game right now,” Tomlin said, “so we’ll get about that task this week.”
The Bengals were as aware as anyone that Roethlisberger hadn’t practiced all week leading up to the game. To enter the meeting with Pittsburgh and not have a plan to exploit any potential rust or lack of practice time with his receivers would have been highly suspect on the part of Zac Taylor. And when the Bengals defense pushed the Steelers offense to play a certain way, the Steelers didn’t just accept that – they adjusted and plan to continue to do so with every single opponent they face the remainder of the 2020 season. Tomlin is fully committed to the “business of attacking”, regardless of what aspect of the game that might involve.
Never one to mince words, Tomlin made it apparent that the continued focus of attention on one aspect of the Steelers’ game when it came to criticism was moot to the overall goals of the team. “We had a similar discussion a couple of weeks ago when you guys were asking about our third-and-long defense,” Tomlin answered the press. “I expect similar results with respect to the run game.”
Criticisms aside, Tomlin and the Steelers offense will continue to move the ball the way they want, based not on what fans, critics, analysts, or the public want, but on how opposing defenses attempt to dictate. Tomlin is invested in his teams’ ability to “give it” in order to succeed, stats sheets and pundits be buggered.