It’s no coincidence that the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers four-game losing streak coincided with the best performance all year by Le’Veon Bell and company. This may be the easiest road to the playoffs for the Steelers and if they implement it, the Steelers could very clinch the AFC North.
When it comes to statistical analysis, this may be the first Steelers offense since Todd Haley took over at Offensive Coordinator that has really needed to win the time of possession war. The less time the defense is out there, the better the Steelers look. If the other team’s star offensive players are looking at the tablets that Bill Belichick loves so much (just kidding) they can’t be gashing the Steelers defense for big plays.
Ironically, running the ball with Bell consistently may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to the Steelers defense. But the coaching staff needs to get on board. Lean on Bell’s rushing in the 4th quarter when it’s time to “take the air out of the ball” as people commonly refer to it. Ex-Steelers Coach Bill Cowher was a master at it, and perhaps it’s a way to cover up a team that’s more flawed than pundits thought to go into the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers Line Paving a Road to the Playoffs
Help the wide receivers
The defense wouldn’t be the only benefactor of leaning on the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell through the home stretch, the offensive passing game could use assistance as well. Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the league but sadly doesn’t have the size to leap over double teams the way Julio Jones does. Some defenses have mitigated his effect on the game, especially since there is no true vertical threat playing opposite Brown.
So far this season Sammie Coates has had 16 receptions for 371 yards and 2 touchdowns in games the Steelers win and 4 receptions for 54 yards in the Steelers’ losses. Add in the fact that Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton are done for the season and suddenly the Steelers miss Martavis Bryant’s playmaking ability more than ever. If the coaching staff took a moment to look at the big picture, it suddenly looks pretty reasonable to lean on the offensive line.
Tight End Play
Besides the absence of a deep-threat receiver across from Brown, the play of the Steelers’ tight ends has dropped off significantly from last year. There are the obvious stats like Roethlisberger went 1/6 for 5 yards when targeting tight ends against the winless Browns. The oft-used “eye test” will show anyone that’s examining the Steelers offense that Ben and the Steelers’ biggest free-agent signing of the off-season, Ladarius Green, had his best game of the season against the Colts but still have to build up some chemistry. Hopefully, this last third of the season will give them time to do so.
But there is a running play the Steelers use called the trey counter where the blocks of one and sometimes both tight-ends are absolutely essential. The way the Steelers prefer to run it left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and any tight end on his side of the line block down on the defenders. Then the Steelers pull Pro-Bowl guard David DeCastro and a tight end from the right side of the offensive line to “kick out” or push any other defenders towards the sideline essentially making a lane for Bell to run through. When it’s been executed effectively it is the bread and butter of the Steelers’ running game.
Last season when running the trey counter the Steelers had good old Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth as their tight ends. Miller was an effective blocker and Spaeth was more of a lineman than a pass catching tight end anyway. No one will ever confuse Jesse James’ and Xavier Grimble’s execution of the same play with their predecessors. Their blocks are inefficient and sometimes they’ll block the right player, only to see him spin off the block and make the tackle. The coaching staff has been looking for solutions.
They used Chris Hubbard (a backup lineman) as a tight end to help with the efficiency of the blocking game. Roosevelt Nix the Steelers fullback, if he can stay healthy, may be another answer. Unless some of the areas of concern mentioned above get worked out down the home stretch of the 2016 season, these may only short term answers. At the end of the day, the Steelers’ linemen may have to go back to actually creating lanes so Le’Veon Bell can run to an AFC North Title.