One of the most frustrating things when watching the Pittsburgh Steelers offense over the past few years is the number of times the team will run the ball on second-and-long, especially after an unsuccessful first-down run. New data released by PFF’s Arjun Menon shows that the Steelers go run-run-pass in a series of downs at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, behind the Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders.
According to the chart, the Steelers went run-run-pass around what looks to be on approximately 27% of their drives. The Bears’ total, which was a tick under 30%, was the highest in the NFL dating back to 2010. The chart only accounts for designed runs, so quarterback scrambles on first and second down wouldn’t factor in the data.
With a rookie quarterback, it’s not incredibly surprising that the Steelers were near the top of the list, and with the running game improving dramatically in the second half of the season, it makes sense that they were a run-heavy team. But there were too many times when the team would be facing second-and-long and run and then put themselves in a third-and-six or third-and-seven situation. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are good running backs, but running the ball in second-and-long situations consistently just isn’t going to win you many
That isn’t helping out any quarterback, especially not a rookie. The Steelers were conservative with their playcalling with Pickett this year, which is understandable, especially considering his early turnovers. But they were too conservative at times. For example, the group didn’t even have hot routes installed in their offense. And running the ball back-to-back times to open a drive when there wasn’t a ton of run success early in the season is only hurting Pickett and the rest of the offense. The kid gloves probably should’ve come off a little bit sooner in 2022.
Pickett will have a full offseason to prepare to be the starter in 2023, and with Matt Canada entering a make-or-break third season, the offense is going to need to expand. Pickett is going to need to take more shots down the field, and the playbook is going to have to offer more in terms of route trees and giving Pickett looks over the middle of the field. With that should hopefully come more passing when the situation calls for it.
I love ground-and-pound, defense-oriented football more than I probably should, but that’s just not the way the modern NFL works. The Steelers were able to lean on it in the second half of 2022, but I’m just not sure how sustainable it is to win long-term. Of the 20 teams who went run-run-pass the most, just five made the playoffs, and that’s with the New York Giants coming in at No. 18 and the Seattle Seahawks at No. 20. The Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs ranked last, and while obviously, Patrick Mahomes is a better quarterback than Kenny Pickett, there’s something to be said for the fact that the bottom-six teams on the list all made the playoffs and eight of the bottom 12 spots were occupied by playoff teams.
The Steelers’ play-calling has to expand, and they have to be more willing to throw the ball on early downs. If they can do that successfully, they could take that next step they need to make some noise in the playoffs.