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Ground & Pound: Have Steelers Found a Running Game?

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Steelers RB Benny Snell

INDIANAPOLIS — Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers might have a running game.

The Steelers ran the ball well for the fourth consecutive game on Monday night, with Najee Harris and Benny Snell both finding the end zone in a 24-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Steelers have now run for at least 100 yards as a team in four straight games after doing in just two of their first six contests. It’s not just volume, either. They have run for at least 4.3 yards per carry in each of the last four games after doing that just once in the first six.

The turnaround started in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles — certainly an easy opportunity to get rushing yards — but since then, the difficulty has consistently been ratcheted up. The Steelers needed to salt away a win in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints and did so. They played Week 11 without change of pace option Jaylen Warren after he was injured on the game’s first series.

Monday night against the Colts, Warren was not able to return to the lineup and things got worse from an injury standpoint quickly, as Harris left the game on the final drive of the first half with an abdominal injury.

But it didn’t slow things down, as third-stringer Snell and practice squad call-up Anthony McFarland Jr. kept right on running.

As a team, they finished with 172 yards on 36 carries for a 4.8 yards per carry average.

And somehow, things only got better after Harris left the game. He finished with 10 carries for 35 yards and a first-half touchdown. Quarterback Kenny Pickett chipped in with six rushes for 32 yards on a combination of designed runs and scrambles. 

McFarland got six carries for 30 yards and Snell was the game’s unlikely hero, rushing 12 times for 62 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

“I’m just appreciative of both guys’ efforts,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “Sometimes, you get battlefield promoted.”

Snell is in his fourth NFL season. McFarland is in his third. They certainly gave strong efforts on Tuesday and looked like they had been putting in work while not getting chances to be ready when they got one.

But if two journeyman backups in McFarland and Snell, an undrafted rookie in Warren and a talented but banged-up Harris are all having success at the same time, some credit probably needs to go to the much maligned Steelers offensive line.

They remain a work in progress, and Pickett was sacked three more times on Monday night. But they are coming together as a run-blocking unit.

“I think it’s huge for us, right?” center Mason Cole said. “Any time we can come out, put the game on our back, and really be successful, it’s big. Also, a big credit to our backs, man. Ant and Benny, they were running hard, real explosive plays and just good work by them.”

The backup backs got their day in the sun, and when Harris and Warren return, they will likely continue to receive accolades, but most of the credit for the Steelers resurgent run game likely belongs to the men up front.

“Listen, we lean on those guys,” Pickett said. “We go the way those guys go. Our backs did a phenomenal job, the tight ends in the run game. There is a lot that goes into it, but that group we have up front, man, we’re pretty tight. They’re real tight together. They have great continuity. You know, it’s great to see from early in the season what people were saying to now and how great those guys are playing. You know, incredibly proud to be their quarterback and play with them.”

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