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Successful running favors Steelers

Published: 11/13/13 @ 12:00


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH

The future of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season might not rely so much on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s right arm as it will on his hands.

When Roethlisberger spends more time turning around and giving the ball to a running back, the Steelers (3-6) win. When they fall behind early or rely too heavily on Roethlisberger to keep them in the game, they lose.

Pittsburgh is averaging 117 yards rushing in its three victories and just 69 in its six defeats. And for the Steelers, it’s not how you finish so much as how you start. Pittsburgh is averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the first half of the games it has won and just 3.2 yards per carry in the opening half in the games it has not.

As gifted as Roethlisberger is, when the defense knows what’s coming he’s not nearly as effective. His rating in Pittsburgh’s six losses is 83.9 even though he’s averaging 317 yards passing in those games. He’s averaging only 209 yards passing in Pittsburgh’s wins, including 204 yards in blustery conditions last Sunday.

While it might not make for the prettiest stat line, after an 0-4 start Roethlisberger will take it.

“Being balanced is always the key for us,” he said. “We said coming into [the Buffalo] game that we were going to run early and run it a lot.”

A whole lot, technically.

Pittsburgh gashed the Bills for 99 yards on 19 carries on its way to taking a 10-3 halftime lead. During a 13-play, 58-yard drive spanning the first and second quarters, the Steelers ran it on eight consecutive snaps, and did it in a variety of ways with a variety of players.

Four different Steelers — rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, veteran Felix Jones, a rejuvenated Jonathan Dwyer and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders — ended up with the ball in their hands.

One play Jones was sprinting through a hole for nine yards. The next Dwyer was bulling up the middle to convert a third-and-1. The next Bell lined up in the wildcat formation and flipped the ball to Sanders, who was running in motion.

Roethlisberger, who was split out wide, ran behind Sanders and was prepared to a handoff from Sanders when the receiver faked the pitch and sprinted 25 yards. Four straight runs by Bell followed and the Steelers ended up kicking a field goal to tie the game at 3.

It was the kind of persistence with the run the Steelers have shown only sporadically this season. Part of the problem is effectiveness. Pittsburgh is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry in the first half of its losses, compared to 4.5 yards per carry in its wins.