One of the Steelers’ problems all season has been their running game. With no semblance of one outside of the beginning of the season, they have struggled with Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball 50 times a game. The Steelers got promising news in the second half against Cincinnati, however. The running game suddenly came alive in a way it has not in weeks. The good news is they really did not do anything crazy schematically. It was all up the good things happening up front. The Steelers get maybe their best run blocker in Kevin Dotson back this week, too. With a struggling Roethlisberger, any running game will be a huge boon to the offensive effort.
The biggest run of the game was this 29 yard rip from Benny Snell. Everything about the blocking is great stuff. David DeCastro logs a solid pull to seal off the edge and opens up a big hole. Vance McDonald climbs to the second level to get out in space with a nice block. Maurkice Pouncey cuts off the 2i’s path with strong hands and great pad level. However, where this play really breaks open is the combo block between Alejandro Villanueva and Derwin Gray. Villanueva climbs to the second level with ease to get the linebacker. That seal creates the creaes. Meanwhile, Gray turns the 3-technique around to really create this hole. Snell gets downhill in a hurry and that is what allows this run to flourish. All around this is fantastic stuff.
The Steelers found some pretty solid success with wide zone runs on the day. This play has three guys that really spring it. First, McDonald holds a strong edge to allow Pouncey and DeCastro to get out into space in front of Snell. Once there, DeCastro holds a strong block on the linebacker and Pouncey takes out the edge defender in the overhang safety. It gives Snell a crease to cut up and get solid yardage. The movement skills of DeCastro and Pouncey are still there, so this could be something the Steelers go back to often down the stretch.
Pouncey really had a strong performance on Monday. Sealing off that 2i is keying to getting Snell that one-on-one opportunity in the alley. Even though McDonald does not make an impressive block, he holds the linebacker just enough. Still, Snell creates the yardage for himself. This is where a dynamic running back comes into play, and Snell proved to be more dynamic than his testing would show. The lateral jump cut to force that miss from the linebacker is impressive for his size. However, the double cuts are really something Snell has not shown previously in his game. He baits the MIKE linebacker into DeCastro, which makes DeCastro’s job at sealing him off that much easier. Pulling off those moves in succession is what NFL starting backs do. Then, the finish is the definition of Benny Snell football as he runs Vonn Bell right over. Overall, this is a fantastic play by Snell.
DeCastro logs yet another solid pull on this one as he kicks out the edge. JC Hassenauer gets some movement to seal off that 4i to the inside. The line did a decent job to allow one-on-one opportunities to take place and Snell delivered. Yet another lateral cut and a broken tackle allows Snell to get solid yardage out of this run. The Steelers naturally just do not have the numbers advantage here, so Snell has to make a play. He consistently proved he could make that critical defender miss.
This last one is a great play by Gray. At first, he is helping Pouncey with a combo block, but ends up blocking two guys, one with each hand. It seals off that left side and does not allow for pursuit from the playside linebacker. Villanueva holds his block just long enough to where Snell can get outside and use any burst he has. Still, this play is really made by the immaculate efforts of Gray to make this play. A guy seeing his first big-time snaps should not be making plays like this, so it is encouraging.
The Steelers running game is far from perfect at this point. This was the first week with any signs of life in the running game, and it was against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. However, anything is positive given its state prior to this matchup. Gray’s performance is encouraging for the future. If Pouncey and DeCastro can play like they did the Steelers have a chance to build something here. They still need to get better in short yardage situations and on the goal line. But at the very least, this running game seems to have a pulse to it for the first time in months.