Steelers Officially Have FB, Running Game to Follow, Right? Right!

I think it’s sweet, all this talk about the return of the fullback to the Steelers’ offense, and even the mention of getting reacquainted with the running game. But let’s not all hop into the way-back machine at once because none of this means that Pittsburgh’s going to run the ball a lot more than they have in recent seasons.

I talked to Joel Thurmond and Andy Benoit about it in recent podcasts and the thinking about what we can expect in 2012 is some variation of “Haley will fit his scheme to the players,” which is another way of saying “It’s not unreasonable to think that the Steelers will throw almost as much as they did in previous seasons with Bruce Arians calling the plays.”

Conventional wisdom seems to embrace the notion that Haley, on upper management’s edict, will commit to the running game in an effort to keep Big Ben upright. The problem with this logic: Ben’s style of play lends itself to a lot of hits and running the ball won’t magically make up for that. But there are ways to keep things humming along while minimizing the weekly beatings Big Ben endures.

First, take a look at this: a table of the offenses under Haley in Arizona and Kansas City compared to the Steelers in the same seasons.

FYI: these numbers are courtesy of Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate metric (ASR below). Also: SACK is ‘sack rank’, SACKS is ‘No. of sacks that season’, and %PASS is how often a team threw the ball.

2007
TEAM  SACK SACKS ASR  %PASS
ARI   9    24    4.7%  60%
PIT   31   47   10.1%  49%

2008
TEAM  SACK SACKS ASR  %PASS
ARI   8    28    4.4%  66%
PIT   29   50    9.2%  55%

2009
TEAM  SACK SACKS ASR  %PASS
KC    25   46    7.8%  58%
PIT   28   50    8.5%  58%

2010
TEAM  SACK SACKS ASR  %PASS
KC    18   32    6.8%  48%
PIT   29   43    8.6%  53%

2011
TEAM  SACK SACKS ASR  %PASS
KC    19   34    7.1%  53%
PIT   20   42    7.2%  57%

One takeaway? Benoit mentioned it in the podcast, but Haley likes to use three-step drops, something that makes sense with Kurt Warner under center (and which explains the low sacks in ’07 and ’08). Roethlisberger has shown the ability to get the ball out quickly but it’s not a strength. Doesn’t mean he can’t, but honing that skill seems like more efficient way to a) mitigate hits and sacks, and b) matriculate the ball down the field instead of relying on the running game.

And while the Steelers put the ball in the air more than 55 percent of the time in three of the previous five seasons, Haley was happy to throw with Warner, but more conservative with Matt Cassel in Kansas City. Partly because it was Matt Cassel, but also because the Chiefs had Jamaal Charles.

So what does this mean for Pittsburgh’s 2012 season? The boring answer: expect Haley to find a balance between the air assault in Arizona and the pass-run ratio that got Arians fired this offseason. This isn’t me backtracking on the “let’s not get carried away with the running game” chatter but to suggest that Haley will have Ben throwing it more than handing it off, just not 57 percent of the time (which was the case in ’11). Unless, of course, Roethlisberger masters that three-step drop.

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  • callouswhisper

    It isnt just about how many times Steelers run the ball it is about doing it more successfully. We get to carried away in the need to try and decipher what ratio the team will have and forget OC’s like Haley have a track record of playing to a team’s strengths. If Steelers can pound it better with Dd & Colon inside they will. The irony is that wont cut down on big plays it will open up more opportunities. Ben is a very good play action Qb and never gets the chance to exercise that option near enough. A solid run game will cause teams fits when Ben still has the ball and they are scrambling to recover from their initial inkling to crowd the LOS with Brown, Sanders and Wallace running around. Also the notion Ben isnt proficient at 3-step drops isnt true at all. In Seattle, Titans and New England game he was superb at it and funnily enough in those games all the recievers partook. The only thing lacking was red zone success in Pats & Seahags games.