Is the "Steelers Way" Still a Smash-Mouth Rushing Attack?

Rob SmeltzerCorrespondent IMay 13, 2009


For all of you who are trying to figure out the photo, that is Byron "Bam" Morris of course.  Perhaps, the most fitting name for a running back on a smash-mouth offense.

Throughout franchise history, fans in Pittsburgh have prided themselves on being blue-collar people who rooted for a blue-collar team.  By having a stout defense and a bruising rushing attack.

For years, the team trotted out running back after running back who personified the "Steeler way".  Bam Morris went from being a relatively obscure third round pick, to averaging 4.0 yards per carry and tallying 16 touchdowns in two seasons in black and gold. 

The most recent installment, Jerome Bettis, paved the way with over 10,000 yards in 10 seasons with the Steelers.  Did he mark the end of the beloved tradition of a grind it out rushing attach as he passed the torch to Willie Parker?

It is the search for an offensive identity that will dictate the changes we see from offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.  For several seasons, we have seen the team lose its effectiveness running the ball and last season may be the catalyst for a re-dedication to the run game. 

For only the second time this decade, the Steelers were under the NFL average for total rushing yards.  The team managed only 3.67 yards per carry, and were even worse on first down with 3.56 yards per carry. 

The coaching staff must find a way to gain yardage on first down to alleviate the ensuing pressure on second and long.  The team was faced with more 2nd and greater than 10 yards to go, than in any of the previous 5 seasons. 

Even when the team decided to pass on first down, they only averaged 6.8 yards per attempt, the third lowest total this decade.  With both the run and pass struggling, it's easy to see how the offense was unable to move the ball for long stretches of games. 

Look for the offense to return to its creative side that thrived under Ken Whisnehunt and utilize the big body of last season's first round pick, Rashard Mendenhall.  If the Steelers can use their run game to establish four to five yards on first down, then the playbook completely opens up for ensuing plays. 

When they do decide to pass on first down, look for play-action passes as well as the wrinkle plays that are designed to keep the defense off balance.  The success of the offense will be dependent upon keeping the down and distance manageable. 

By moving the chains methodically down the field, the defense will not be put in difficult positions with bad field position or little rest between drives.  This is the strategy that went out the window the past few seasons, and the result has kept Ben Roethlisberger improvising on the run and the defense in the shadows of their own goalposts.

Perhaps the biggest change for the offense will be the fact that there will be no major personnel changes.  Bruce Arians will be in his second season as offensive coordinator and the offense will not have a transition to worry about. 

Other than Mendenhall returning from injury, the base offense will look very much the same.  Mendenhall may not start over Willie Parker, but he will get the bulk of the carries by season's end. 

With Parker entering the final year of his contract, the Steelers will get Mendenhall ready to carry the reigns by himself in 2010.  With a slew of players becoming unrestricted free agents after 2009, the team will look to utilize the money tied up in their former first round pick and cut ties with Parker. 

Mendenhall will also be running behind an offensive line that will have another year of cohesion.  A unit that didn't play badly down the stretch, and is for the most part on the young side, will get the chance to work on their chemistry through training camp.

Expect to see this season's second draft pick (the Steelers first pick in the third round), Kraig Urbik, on the field a lot by December.  There may even be a lot of talk of him beating out right guard Darnell Stapleton from the start.  Urbik has a lot of versatility, playing both guard and tackle in college, and the Steelers have mentioned trying him out at center. 

The additions of Urbik and Mendenhall will give the Steelers a chance to return to that workman-like offense that Pittsburgh has grown to embrace.  Expect the team to use these players as they did with Alan Faneca and Jerome Bettis.  Urbik is a big, strong guard with the ability to pull on the counter, while Mendenhall is a big running back with the ability to run over or through you.

The playbook for 2009 may look a lot like the one used in 2004.  That was Ben Roethlisberger's first season and the team went to the AFC Championship game with a regular season record of 15-1.  Imagine the success that could be achieved if they could execute the same game plan and plays with an experienced, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback at the helm.