(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The Steelers have struggled to run the ball in the past several weeks. It wasn't more evident than on Monday against the Washington Football Team when they rushed for a season-low 21 yards on 14 carries, averaging 1.5 yards per carry.
They were embarrassed on the goal line in the second quarter when they ran five straight plays on the 1-yard line and couldn't punch the ball into the end zone. On second-and-goal, Ben’s pass fell incomplete to Benny Snell Jr. and Washington’s defensive tackle Tim Settle was called for unnecessary roughness, giving the Steelers a new set of downs. On first-and-goal, Snell was tackled for no gain, the same thing occurred on second-and-goal. On third-and-goal, Ben’s pass to tackle eligible Jerald Hawkins was just short and fell incomplete. On fourth-and-goal, Snell was tackled for no gain for the third time, as defensive end Chase Young beat Eric Ebron across the face and crashed down the line of scrimmage from the left side to tackle Snell and gave the ball back to his offense. Snell had three carries for no gain all from Washington’s 1-yard line.
"If you can’t get a yard in our game, you don’t deserve to win," Mike Tomin said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference about the Steelers failing to convert in short-yardage situations against Washington. "That’s the nuts and bolts elements of football, the physicality element of football. We didn’t meet that challenge, so we have some work to do in that area. The big thing for us is to examine why and get back to the lab and recapture some of the rhythm that we’ve had in those situational moments throughout the year. There have been times during the year where we haven’t run the ball as good as we would like, but even in the midst of those in situational moments, we have been solid. We weren’t in our last performance, and we have to own that."
Through 12 games, the Steelers rank 29th in rushing, averaging 92.6 yards per game. They have rushed for 48 yards or fewer in four of their last six games. In the Steelers' first five games of the season, they rushed for 100 yards or more in every game and had a running back rush over 100 yards in four of those games.
Tomlin said the Steelers need to get back to the lab and recapture some of the rhythm they had earlier in the year when it comes to running the football in situational moments. Fans and members of the media have put this idea out there, and Craig Wolfley wrote an article about it on Wednesday for Steel City Insider, but one move that can help the running game is moving Matt Feiler back to right tackle (the position he played last year and in 2018) and start rookie Kevin Dotson at left guard.
By coincidence, the two times this year that Dotson started, both at right guard in place of David DeCastro, the Steelers rushed for over 100 yards. Pittsburgh rushed for 109 yards against the Denver Broncos in Week 2 and rushed for 129 yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. In Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Dotson replaced DeCastro in the first quarter after he suffered an abdomen injury and played 54 snaps in the game. The Steelers ended up rushing for 136 yards against Philadelphia.
Dotson is known for his power and run-blocking abilities. After the Steelers drafted Dotson in the fourth round out of the University of Louisiana offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett called him a "people mover." Feiler is also better suited to play right tackle. It was evident in the game against Washington that he struggled to block defensive tackle Jonathan Anderson, both in run blocking and pass protection.
The Steelers' offensive line is excellent at pass blocking, allowing a league-low 10 sacks this year and no sacks in the last five games, but when it comes to the run game, no one is moving anybody. I'm not sure if Tomlin would want to shuffle the line this late in the season, but the run game must get better than what it has been in the last six games.
Last year in Week 10 against the Los Angles Rams, Ramon Foster was ruled out of the game with a concussion and Tomlin moved Matt Feiler to left guard and Chuks Okorafor started at right tackle. Tomlin moved Feiler to left guard because he thought Feiler was a better matchup for defensive tackle Aaron Donald than B.J. Finney.
If the Steelers don't get the run game going and continue to be one-dimensional, they'll have an early exit in the playoffs. Okorafor has been solid this year and would be the odd man out in this scenario of Feiler moving to right tackle and starting Dotson at left guard, but it just might be the best lineup to get the run game going in the right direction.