Today I wanted to look at how rushing offenses have fared through Week 15, using success rates by down, game halves, and weekly views as well. Let’s jump right in.
First, let’s look at early down success rates league wide (with scrambles, kneels, and aborted/penalty plays excluded):
- First Down Rush Success = A rush that gains 40% or more of the needed yardage.
- Second Down Rush Success = A rush that gains 50% or more of the needed yardage.
Very telling visual. We see that Pittsburgh’s running game has been particularly successful on first down in 2023, ranking fifth in the NFL at 52.2-percent. The bad news has been second down, where the Steelers plummet all the way to 41.9-percent, landing a lowly 31st league-wide.
Particularly frustrating about that has been decisions to run on second-and-long, which would be easier to stomach for a strong third down offense, which Pittsburgh is not (26th conversion rate on total third downs).
Speaking of which, let’s look at late downs, where third and fourth downs that pick up a first down are considered a success:
Pittsburgh’s rushing offense has a late down success rate of 53.3-percent, ranking 23rd in the NFL. As explained earlier, I filtered QB scrambles out, so these rates largely reflect how RB’s have fared in their offenses. Definitely better than the passing game, but situational rushing has not been good either, and sheds important context to the Steelers total rushing success rate:
Despite the strong fifth rank on first down, when 93 of Pittsburgh’s 158 successful rushes this season have occurred (58.9-percent), only 31-percent of them came on second down, and 10.1-percent on late downs. This lands the Steelers offense at 23rd league-wide at 48.5-percent in total rush success rate.
Tough pill to swallow with Pittsburgh’s success or lack thereof driven by how the o-line and run game fare, and neither thriving as of late with under 75 rush yards from RB’s the last two games. With an expected change to QB Mason Rudolph in Week 16, the rush success needs to improve for hopeful positive trends on offense to close 2023.
I was also curious to see how rush offenses have performed by half:
From a league-wide perspective, the Steelers’ rushing offense has been below average in the first half, with a 48.1 success rate that ranks 25th. In the second half, the rate has been fairly similar at 48.8, but ranks better at the NFL mean (15th). The run game hasn’t helped an offense that has struggled to open games strong for much of the season, though we did see Pittsburgh jump out to an early 13-0 lead before things derailed last week.
To wrap up, let’s look at a weekly breakdown for added context:
Very up and down, particularly with 80 percent of pre-bye week performances below the line. The first two weeks of 2023 started rough, with Week One Pittsburgh’s worst 25-percent success rate of the year. They had just 37 yards from RBs in that embarrassing 30-7 blowout loss to the 49ers, having to abandon the run, and was the only game with single digit rushing attempts this season. Then in Week Two against Cleveland, 31.6 of their runs were successful, with 63 yards from RBs, but got the 26-22 victory.
Week Eight against Jacksonville was another poor day running the football, with a 28.6 success rate (second-worst Steelers performance), and an abysmal 32 yards from the RB duo in the 20-10 loss.
Since that game, we see things were getting more consistent, with the running game coming on encouragingly strong for a stretch. Weeks Nine and 10 were above the line and equated to wins, with over 150 yards from the RBs in each, and a 100-yard game from Warren in the latter against the Packers (Pittsburgh’s second-best 58.8 success rate).
Then back below average in the horrid 13-10 loss to the Browns, despite the backfield still eclipsing 150 yards and a 48.7 success rate. Slight improvement the following week, a second consecutive AFC-North matchup against Cincinnati, getting the 16-10 win with 149 rush yards from the backs on a 50.0 success rate.
The last three game losing streak has been sickening to watch, but the Week 13 24-10 loss to the 2-10 Cardinals featured an above average 56.0 success rate, and 122 yards from Warren and Harris.
Most recently, as you’d probably expect, things have been on a discouraging downtrend the last two games, with 40 RB yards against the Patriots (47.8 success rate) and particularly last week in Indianapolis (39.1 success rate, 73 RB rushing yards).
Pittsburgh’s best 62.5 success rate came Week Four against Houston, with 100 RB yards. The result unfortunately came in another blowout loss though (30-6) with several successes coming in the second half down multiple scores. The third highest success rate for the Steelers in 2023 came in the 24-17 Week Seven win versus the Rams, on 85 RB rushing yards and a 58.3 success rate.
So, of the bevy of issues this team needs to address, second down rushing really needs to improve, including the decision-making process of when to do so. This has also negatively impacted late downs of course, and has been detrimental to Pittsburgh’s 23rd rank in rush success rates, despite ranking strong at fifth on first down.
Also expected, the Steelers have been below average in the first half of games, an overall offensive struggle that would be refreshing to see improve in the final stretch of 2023. Optimistically, seeing less volatility in the weekly view since Week Nine is a bright side, and will hopefully get back above the line starting this week against the Bengals, who have allowed 4.7 YPC on defense (T-30th). Knock on wood we see a very successful running game to close 2023, even more important with QB uncertainty, as Pittsburgh tries to get their offense back on track.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.