The focus of Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert’s message to the media Wednesday was rightfully on his tepid comments regarding signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger. Quarterback wasn’t the only position with question marks Colbert touched on, however.
The Steelers general manager noted that regardless of who the quarterback is in 2021, Pittsburgh must get more out of its running game.
“I will look at it from the personnel standpoint,” Colbert said of the run game, per the team’s official transcript. “And the group of guys we had last year — the offensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers, the quarterbacks — it did not produce a good running game. I think schematically, that’s up for the coaches and up to coach (Mike) Tomlin to figure that. And my input would be if we need to do certain things schematically, these are the types of players that may be available to help us achieve that.”
The Steelers’ top four running backs combined for 1,230 rushing yards for the 2020 season. Their lead back, James Conner, compiled 721 yards in 13 games, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, with six TDs. Conner averaged just 2.87 yards after contact for the season, per Pro Football Focus, and lacked lateral explosiveness. With the 25-year-old set to hit free agency, the Steelers’ running back room is likely in for a massive overhaul.
Colbert noted that getting more out of the running game needs to be a group improvement, not just about adding different RBs to the equation.
“Again, it is a collective effort,” he said. “You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough, or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough, or the line wasn’t good enough. To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. We need to be better, quite honestly, just in reference to what Mike (Tomlin) was talking about; we need to finish. And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
Injuries and inefficient play along the offensive line helped lead to the struggling run game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers ranked 31st in run blocking according to PFF grades in 2020. With center Maurkice Pouncey retiring, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Matt Feiler and tackle Zach Banner (also coming off injury) all hitting free agency, Pittsburgh’s once-sturdy O-line could be also in for a significant makeover.
“As you mentioned, Al [Villanueva] is a free agent, Matt Feiler is a free agent, Maurkice has retired, Zach Banner is coming off an ACL, so it is an uncertain group that we have upfront,” Colbert said when asked if rebuilding the line was a priority. “Again, I don’t know where the free agency part will go for both Matt and Al. We know Maurkice won’t be back with us. How that comes together, it will be ongoing. The draft itself, it is stronger at the tackle position than it is at the interior. Center and guard, traditionally, is not a very strong group. In any draft, the tackles are unusually deep this year. I think we can add players through the draft. Hopefully, we will be able to do some type of business in free agency. And we are always going to look at our own players first.”
In an offseason destined to be defined by a salary-cap crunch, the Steelers have a bevy of high-level questions to answer throughout their roster, not just when it comes to the quarterback.
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