You might not have known it just by watching the game live—one could certainly be forgiven if it didn’t feel that way—but the Pittsburgh Steelers were actually fairly successful running the football on Sunday against the New England Patriots. That is, at least, if you judge by run success rate measures.
Those kinds of numbers don’t necessarily sit well in the offensive line room, however. The base standard for any running play is for it to be ‘successful’ in picking up whatever yardage total or percentage is deemed a success relative to the down and distance. That doesn’t mean the play went the way it was designed.
And center Mason Cole knows that the offense needs to do more, as a whole but also specifically in the run, to be a better ally for the defense. Head coach Mike Tomlin preaches complementary football, of all units—offense, defense, and special teams—working in harmony with one another, but they’re not getting that this year.
“We’ve got to establish the run, first of all, and whatever the run game schematically-wise is gonna be, we have to establish it and get Najee some yards and just be efficient”, Cole told reporters yesterday via the team’s YouTube channel. “Those will help with time of possession and those long possessions and help our defense”.
“If we get back and go three and out and run the ball once, throw it twice, we’re not eating up any clock, we’re not giving our defense any sort of break”, he added. “We’ll find it. We will. Again, there’s a little bit of patience, but still a sense of urgency to find it”.
This is something I’ve talked about a few times already over the course of the past 10 days. Put simply, the offense is on and off the field too quickly too frequently. While it’s true that the defense on its own end has had some issues getting off the field, they might have an easier time doing it if the offense gave them more time off.
The Steelers had eight significant drives on Sunday in which time was not an issue. Of the eight, three of the drives—including both in the fourth quarter—were three and outs that lasted under two minutes. Another was a 3:17-minute, six-play, 15-yard drive with one first down that ended in a punt.
Pittsburgh had 11 such drives in the opener against the Bengals. Seven of those drives were also under two minutes, or in the one case in which there weren’t two minutes left, they were forced to punt the ball with time left on the clock. That includes five three-and-out drives.
This team has only had four drives thus far that lasted four minutes or longer on offense. Conversely, the defense has faced nine such drives. Both sides need to be better—the offense staying on the field, the defense getting off of it—but the bigger issue is the offense.