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Fichtner and Sarrett gone is a start, but Steelers need better personnel to improve the run game

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Steelers' run game was abysmal in the 2020 season. It was really brutal to watch at times. An organization that once prided itself to be a smash-mouth power running team has been woeful in the run game the last three seasons.

The Steelers ranked 31st in rushing yards per game in 2018 (90.3), 29th (90.4) in 2019 and dead last in 2020 (82.5). The Steelers also ranked last in the league in yards per carry (3.6) this past season and their 1,351 rushing yards were the fewest in franchise history.

The lack of success in the run game is a big reason why offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett didn't have their contracts renewed following the end of the 2020 season.

The Steelers' run game started the season off strong with rushing over 100 yards in each of their first five games and had a 100-yard rusher in four of those games. In their last 12 games (including the wild-card game loss to Cleveland), the Steelers rushed over 100 yards just once (Week 11 against Jacksonville) and didn't have a 100-yard rusher in any games during that span.

Mike Tomlin was asked about the struggles in the run game and whether it was related to personnel or scheme at his season-ending press conference on Wednesday.

"I think when you are dead last in anything, it is all the above," Tomlin said. "We better assess it as such. We will not accept our current position in that area. We cannot. We have to attack that and we will."

Tomlin attacked trying to improve the run game rather quickly by getting rid of Fichtner and Sarrett. A new offensive coordinator and new scheme could definitely help jump-start the run game, but they need better personnel to do so. They need to revamp the offensive line by getting younger through the draft and draft another running back, as James Conner is set to become an unrestricted free agent and I can't see the Steelers bringing him back. Conner was average at best anyway. Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels, along with Anthony McFarland Jr. don't seem to be the long-term answer either. McFarland just finished his rookie season, however, but he wasn't impressive in the limited action that he saw in the 2020 season.

As of right now, it would be wise for the Steelers to draft a left tackle in the first round to replace Alejandro Villanueva and then get a running back in the second round. The Steelers have drafted a running back in each of the last four drafts and they were all mid-to-late round picks. The results have not been great, either. They need to pick up an elite running back in this year's draft to help the run game, along with bolstering the offensive line.


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