“How do you run the ball just 16 times against the 27th ranked run defense?!?”
I’m guessing you’ve either heard or said that yourself following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to Denver this past Sunday and I totally understand where you’re coming from. I questioned the decision to drop back 58 times just like many of you did but after doing some research I can now see why Randy Fichtner and Ben Roethlisberger designed the gameplan they did. Let’s look at the numbers.
The Denver Broncos entered the game with the 27th ranked run defense. No one disputes this, but sometimes you have to go deeper than the surface and we believe Fichtner and company did just that. In their 10 games prior to the Steelers coming to Denver, the Broncos surrendered over 100 yards rushing three times. But those were monstrous totals. 142 to the Chiefs, 323 to the NY Jets and 270 to the LA Rams. Added together with their other seven games they were giving up an average of 127.9 yards per game and an average of 4.36 yards per carry.
Let’s take out those three games which were all losses by the way and you get a yards per carry average of just 3.24 and an average of 77.7 yards per game. I realize you can’t just “take games away” but all teams in the NFL have these outliers every season. Furthermore, over the last four games in which the Broncos went 2-2 they gave up 3.25 yards per carry and just 77.7 yards per game.
Personally I still question just 16 runs being called despite this information. Dropping back 58 times is just too darn much in my opinion but I can now understand why Fichtner and Roethlisberger saw what the Broncos had been doing. As fans we look at that ’27th ranked run defense’ and just assume the Steelers will be able to run the football successfully at will and there’s some proof they might have. Pittsburgh averaged 4.7 yards per those 16 carries. That’s a full yard and half better than what Denver had been giving up.
But… What you can’t take away though were the successes of the passing game. At one point Roethlisberger completed 15 straight passes. Steelers’ receivers dropped five passes, two of which (Vance McDonald in the end zone and James Washington down the sideline) could have been scores. The pass to Xavier Grimble was completed and should have been a touchdown had he not turtled at the goal line and fumbled. The pass to James Conner was also complete and was going for big yards before he suddenly lost the handle on the football. Therefore we can’t just say “the Steelers should have run more” because clearly the passing game was working. Roethlisberger threw for over 450 yards and was averaging over seven yards per pass. The offense racked up 527 total yards, held the ball for 35 minutes and achieved 25 first downs.
I do not write this to defend Fichtner or Roethlisberger or Mike Tomlin. I write this to illustrate that sometimes we have to take a closer look at the numbers. What is often at the surface does not always illustrate what is lying beneath.
Photo courtesy: 93.7 The Fan