Pittsburgh Steelers: Pros and Cons of Heavy Emphasis on the Run
There has been a ton of ink, both digital and real, devoted to the Pittsburgh Steelers' long history as a smash-mouth football team that wins with the run first and foremost. There's also been a ton of ink devoted to opinions of whether or not the run should be emphasized by new offensive boss Todd Haley.
Here's a look at the pros and cons of a heavy emphasis on the run. As you'll see, it isn't so bad after all.
Pro: Less Wear and Tear on Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger has taken a lot of punishment the last few seasons as the team has shifted more and more towards a pass-heavy offense. Part of that has been due to his style of play. Some also has been due to a relatively weak offensive line. And some of it is simply the sheer number of passing plays.
That may not happen in 2012 and beyond. If the Steelers truly recommit to running the ball, they might be better able to limit the hits their star quarterback absorbs.
There's no way to eliminate the hits on Roethlisberger. Even behind the best offensive line, his physical style will guarantee some hits. But if the line improves and the running game is expanded successfully, defenders won't have as many opportunities to hit him.
If that happens, that diminished performance down the stretch with a bum ankle might become a thing of the past.
Con: More Pressure on the Offensive Line
The additions of David DeCastro and Mike Adams and the return of Willie Colon should all benefit the unit, but the offensive line has a lot of pressure on it already to be an improved and cohesive group in 2012. Add in the fact that it will have to help in any success with the run, and the line will be even more under the magnifying glass.
While the line figures to be better, starting two rookies and an injury-prone player alongside two holdovers who are still young doesn't figure to always be a smooth ride.
That figures to show up more with the running game than the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger has always made the offensive line look better than it truly has been simply because he can escape the pocket and make plays in traffic.
The rushing attack doesn't have that benefit. Guys like Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch and Rashard Mendenhall need clear openings or a few seconds of time to turn their jets on and make a play. Only Isaac Redman has shown an aptitude for sneaking through tiny openings or bulling through defenders.
If the line wilts under that heavy pressure, the rushing attack and the offense itself will suffer.
Pro: Better Clock Control
The Steelers usually play a lot of close games. They aren't, even with an increased focus on the pass, a team likely to blow someone out of the water with an avalanche of points. They finish a lot of games with late field goals or touchdowns.
When you play close games, a key component of good defense is using your own offense to keep your opponent's skill players off the field.
Throwing the ball isn't usually a great recipe for clock control. Running the ball effectively does kill the clock. The Steelers historically have been very, very effective in this role. I'm not saying that they should abandon the pass, but they should be much better at lead protection and even extension with a good rushing attack.
Con: Lack of Experience
No offense to Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer and the other backs vying for roster spots and playing time in the likely absence of Rashard Mendenhall, but there isn't a ton of experience here.
Redman has the most experience and has been on the field regularly for the last couple of seasons. That will help, but he's never had to shoulder a 20- to 30-carry load each game. That will be a tough test for him.
Of the rest, Dwyer and Batch are coming off season-ending injuries, and the others have little to no experience at all. Batch doesn't have a professional carry yet, but he's been tearing up the early practices.
This may turn itself into a non-issue if all of the backs that make the team find a way to perform at their best and turn themselves into solid professionals.
For now, it has to be considered a con anytime you're handing a significant chunk of playing time to players who have yet to really prove anything.
Pro: Better Play-Action
One of the linchpins of Ben Roethlisberger's game is that he can run a great play-fake and then throw the ball deep to Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown. That only figures to improve with a better and more consistent usage of the running game.
The Steelers figure to have a devastating combination if the running game is as good as it can be. Wallace and Brown are very good downfield and can use that bit of uncertainty to get wide open. That will make the passing game more efficient and will help the Steelers jump to early leads.
Why is that important? It allows the team to go into a run-heavy offense more quickly and more effectively. That will kill the clock and take the pressure off the defense.
As you can see, a stronger running game doesn't diminish the passing game; rather, it makes it that much more dangerous and effective.
Con: Upsetting a Certain Superstar
I hesitate to include this because, in all reality, Ben Roethlisberger is an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A favorite employee to be sure, but still an employee. He will do as he's instructed by the Rooneys, coach Tomlin and Todd Haley. He's always been a good soldier despite some loose lips.
But, attitude can determine performance, and the last thing the team can afford is a slightly unhappy quarterback calling the signals.
While I think that Ben Roethlisberger will find success even sweeter if he only throws 25 passes a game instead of 35 or 40, I know he likes being the guy who pulls the trigger on every play. That's not bad and I like him better for it because it means he is a good leader.
Too much has been made of his comments. He's tried to downplay them, but the press loves a good controversy.
If Roethlisberger is truly unhappy, it could create issues. Todd Haley isn't known for his genteel personality. If it's just hot air and some early jitters, then things will simply iron themselves out. Right now, it is certainly much ado about nothing.