Are Steelers really running better?

Bruce Arians promised quality in the run game, but Mark Kaboly argues that it's been more about quantity for the Steelers.

Art Rooney II didn't mince words during the offseason when he came out and said the Steelers need to run the ball better.

Bruce Arians followed that up by making sure everybody understood that running the ball better doesn't necessarily mean running the ball more frequently.

"It is the quality of the runs more than the quantity that I am worried about," Arians told me back in July.

Fair enough, right?

It makes sense not to call a run play just for the sake of calling a run play when something else might be a better and smarter choice at the time.

But through almost a third of the season, Arians isn't practicing what he preached so passionately during the spring. His offense isn't really running the ball better even though the stats say something different. His offense is just running the ball at a more frequent pace (much, much more frequent pace) that has inflated the overall rushing totals.

Figure this: The Steelers ran the ball only 42 percent of the time last year. This year through five games, they are running at nearly a 60 percent clip.

We all know why Arians has called 50 more run plays that pass plays this year and that was smart of him. You can't criticize him for putting the pressure on Rashard Mendenhall over the first month of the season rather than Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch. For that, Arians needs applauded.

However, this run game hasn't been much better than last year's that prompted the boss man to come out and publicly proclaim his team needs to run better.

Sure, call me crazy. I know the Steelers are 9th in the NFL in rushing and 15th in yards per carry. I'm aware of that, but numbers can, and do lie.

Last year through five games, the Steelers rushed for 502 yards and this year 655, which is obviously significantly better. But how much better?

Last year they averaged 3.8 yards per carry through five games; this year they are averaging 4.1. Last year they had five rushing touchdowns in five games and they have five this year.

Fact of the matter is that it appears the Steelers are running the ball much better this year, but they are not. They are just running more and that contradicts what Arians envisioned with his offense even after he learned Ben Roethlisberger would be gone for the first month.

Still unsure? Check these numbers out.

Against the Falcons, the Steelers rushed 31 times for 143 yards. Up until the final play of the game, they rushed 30 times for 93 yards or a little more than 3 yards per carry.

Better? Nah, just more.

Against the Titans it was 33 rushes for 106 yards. Once again, more, not better.

Against the Ravens, it was 27 rushes for 84 yards. Again, more, not better.

And the most disturbing trend of all was against the Browns when Arians called 35 run plays that resulted in 121 yards against the then 29th ranked defense against the run.

Even worse than 3.5 yards per carry was the fact that Mendenhall really wasn't able to find room to run against the Browns.

Take away that 25-yard gain in which it was an individual effort by Mendenhall to escape around his own goal line and the Steelers averaged 2.8 yards per carry … against the Browns … at home … against the Browns.

Did I mention it was against the Browns?

In the Cleveland game alone, 17 of Mendenhall's 27 carries went for 2 yards or fewer. Nineteen of his 27 carries went for 3 yards or fewer. And remember, that was with the franchise quarterback under center.

To me, that's not running the ball better. That's running the ball more that is resulting in better numbers.

If it wasn't for the skill set Mendenhall has of breaking the long run, then the ground game would definitely be a glaring concern to all.

Mendenhall has long runs of 50, 34, 25 and 20 yards this season, but those aren't something you can count on every game.

Eventually the Steelers are going to have to heed their offensive coordinator's theory of running the ball better not necessarily more because right now, it is somewhat twisted.

As Rooney said months ago: "… we need to run the ball more consistently to get to where we want to get to."

Having runs of 0, -1, 0, 1, 2, 2, 8, 3, 1, 13, -2, 0, 3, 4, 0, 2 the rest of the game against the Browns after a 25-yard gain isn't very consistent.

But again, this new running-the-ball-more-not-necessarily-better approach by Arians has resulted in a 4-1 record so far so who can really complain about that?

Other than me, that is.

But it will also be you, too, if they lose one of these upcoming road games because they can't run the ball.


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