The Pittsburgh Steelers have encouragingly gotten their ground game going in recent weeks, and are coming off a very strong 205-yard game against the Green Bay Packers, who were solid against the run coming into the Week 10 game (13th in yards per carry).
Seeing the bully ball mentality finally come alive, starting with improved o-line play, is refreshingly welcomed as they prep for two tough divisional games, and will hopefully continue to be a primary aid to stacking important wins for playoff chances on offense.
While RB Jaylen Warren has provided solid contributions this season, he is coming off his first 100-yard rushing performance in Week 10. He, along with Najee Harris (82 rush yards) enjoyed much more room to roam, with the o-line creating the second-most yards before contact the last three seasons, impressively.
Another factor that is encouraging, particularly for Warren, is how frequently he’s forced missed tackles. To highlight this, here’s a visual of running backs with a minimum of 55 rush attempts, and their forced missed tackles as rushers and receivers:
Here we see Warren is well above league average in both, tying for first in forced missed tackles as a receiver with 17. He’s also skyrocketed up the ranks in the run game to seventh with 27, thanks to a league-leading nine forced missed tackles in Week 10, three more than any other running back. Impressive. He also provided five in the previous Week Nine game, which was his second-best mark of the season and tied for second across the league.
As Warren has shown in the receiving game for much of the season, he’s able to utilize his bowling ball style with the ball in space. It’s no coincidence it’s starting to show up in the running game recently, with the O-line allowing him to get a head of steam and maximize this skill. The dot sizes also highlight Warren’s accomplishments coming on fewer attempts (71), tying for second least among the 41 qualifiers, and how impressive he’s been in that role despite limited opportunity.
Harris is also encouragingly above the mean in both, just slightly as a rusher with 21 forced missed tackles (T-18th), on 116 attempts (21st, 45 more than Warren). One of the many examples that sheds additional context on Warren’s feats. Optimistically, Harris’ skillset/build could lead to more production moving forward, if he is more selective on hurdles for example. Harris’ nine forced missed tackles as a receiver ranks ninth, with the Steelers duo both impressively in the top ten.
All things considered, things are looking bright for the run game if the Steelers can keep these recent trends going. Up next is arguably one of the toughest tests possible though, against the strong Cleveland Browns defense that tops many statistical categories. This includes a first rank in rushing success allowed to running backs. Cleveland’s defense held the Ravens to their lowest rushing yards of 2023 (106) last week.
Hopefully, Pittsburgh’s run game can step up to the challenge, with the o-line and strong one-two backfield punch in recent weeks can keep things going, which would be huge as the Steelers aim to add to their two-game winning streak with an important divisional victory.