Steelers' Arians: Power run game lacking
Speaking for the first time since team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers need to put more emphasis on the running game, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians acknowledged Wednesday that improvement has to be made in that area.
"At the end of the game, in the four-minute (offense) to run out the clock and not punt the ball, short yards, we have to be more efficient," Arians said after practice yesterday.
Rashard Mendenhall rushed for more than 1,108 yards last season, but the Steelers had problems in short-yardage situations.
Inconsistency in the power running game is why the Steelers were tied for 21st in the NFL last season in offense inside the opponents' 20-yard line — they managed touchdowns just 48.2 percent of the time — even though they were seventh in the league in total offense.
"I think the critical runs, short-yardage, goal line, have been a problem," Arians said. "They got addressed (in 2008) with Gary Russell. Now is it going to be Rashard• It could be Isaac Redman, it could be by a bunch of guys. Is it a back or is it by committee• This time of year you get your running game going, but in training camp you find out that short-yardage stuff. You win the job that way."
Arians has been a lighting rod for criticism when the running game has bogged down, in large part because of his philosophy.
Arians has generally eschewed the use of a traditional fullback and instead used a tight end or tight end/fullback as an extra blocker in the backfield.
The Steelers were 19th in the NFL in rushing (112.1 yards per game) in 2009.
Arians said he had higher hopes for the ground game going into the season.
"When we came out of training camp last year, we were running the ball as well as we have since Super Bowl XL (in 2005)," Arians said. "We're having success in training camp, running the ball pretty good. Now the problem occurs when you see a different style, when you see penetrating 4-3 (defensive linemen). It's a totally different technique for the offensive line and tight ends."
The Steelers played opponents with 4-3 defenses in their first three games in 2009 as well as in three of their four preseason contests.
They will have to figure out a way to solve the kind of base defenses they don't practice against on a daily basis.
The reason: their first three opponents this season employ 4-3 defenses.
The Steelers ran the ball 44.4 percent of the time last season, but Arians said the sheer number of running attempts don't necessarily translate into a successful running game.
He said the Steelers will continue to change plays at the line of scrimmage if a defense is loading up to stop the run.
Citing Santonio Holmes' nine-catch, 131-yard performance in Super Bowl XLIII, Arians said, "there were seven or six catches Santonio had that were running plays. When safeties blitz that are unblockable and you have runs called ... it's not a 'number' of runs because we threw the ball out there and got a bunch of yards.
"That happens quite often and what we do, we take some short screen stuff and treat that as running game."