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2012 Grades, Position by Position, Running Backs

If the quarterbacks had a bipolar year, the running backs were busy redefining the term “inconsistent.”

The Steelers finished the year 20th in rushing attempts (412), and 26th in rushing yards (1537). That hardly qualifies as “Steelers football.” You know, the game we are all familiar with, when the Steelers run the ball down the opponent’s throats?

Jonathan Dwyer led the team in rushing yards (623), yards per attempt by a running back (4.0), longest rush of the year (34 yards), and was tied for most rushing touchdowns (2). Again, these are hardly numbers to write home about. As I mentioned in my last article about quarterbacks, without the consistent threat of a running game, the passing game suffered and the losses accumulated.

The Steelers did not have a 100-yard rushing game until their sixth game at Cincinnati when Dwyer had 122 yards. (Against that same Bengals team in week 16, Rashard Mendenhall led the team with 50 rushing yards. Talk about inconsistent.)

They did manage four wins in a row starting with that Bengals win, and had three games in a row with 100+ yards rushing. Coincidence? I doubt it.

In the first five games, Steelers running backs had fewer than 30 yards rushing three times. Not surprisingly, they lost two of those games, only beating the hapless Jets. Again, that can’t be coincidence.

Aside from those three games in a row, Steelers running backs had zero, count ‘em, zero games with 100+ yards rushing. Zilch. Nada. None.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Pittsburgh Steelers rushing attack, once one of the most vaunted and feared in the game, amassed three games with 100+ yards rushing for the entirety of the 2012 season.

The Steelers had nine games in which none of their backs had more than 50 yards, three games when no back had more than 30 yards, and one game in which no back had more than 19 yards. This last games was the first Cleveland game in which every one of the active Steelers running backs lost at least one fumble.

A lot of this lack of production can be attributed to poor play and injuries on the offensive line, as well as injuries in the running back corps itself. But I’m not one to make the injury excuse. If you are in the NFL, you need to play at a high level when called upon. Other teams have injuries and they get by just fine. (As a resident of the Baltimore area, I hear all the fans here complaining about injuries and officiating. It gets to be nausea-inducing. The fans here simply can’t fathom how their team can lose if someone didn’t get hurt or the officials blew a call. It makes me despise them even more than I already do. No wonder the Colts left.)

A lot of teams use the “running back by committee” approach, but I question if this is working for the Steelers. In the modern NFL, it’s almost a must. Running backs have the shortest career in the game because of the abuse they take, so when you find a good one, you have to balance getting him the carries he needs to help your team with the need to save him from running his legs off. Freaks of natures like Adrian Peterson are the exception, not the rule.

One problem with using multiple backs in a game, however, is that none of them gets into a groove. Lots of backs have stated that when they are in the game, they want to stay in because when they come out, they lose the flow of the game.

Is that what happened to the Steelers? Who knows, but it is a question worth asking.

Maybe with the guys they have, the Steelers would be better off running their horses until they can’t run anymore.

One thing is for certain. The Steelers must do a better job of running the ball in 2013 if they want to improve on a very lackluster 2012 season.

Three straight games with a 100+ yard rusher could not offset what was a miserable year for the Steelers at the running back position. Nine games without any back getting more than 50 yards is inexcusable. And I don’t even want to talk about the debacle in Cleveland. Injuries played a part, but for the year, I have to give the running backs a D.

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1 comment

  1. BstripeYpaint

    Dear Todd,

    I am among the Steeler Addicts who truly appreciates your thoughtful commentary and distillations of the results from the 2012 season; your essays add a lot to my qualitative impressions of the games we all watched.

    Here’s hoping that our Steelers successfully address the gaps that you write about in your articles!

    Your efforts are appreciated.


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