The Steelers opened their 2014 preseason Saturday night against the New York Giants with an idea in mind.
To establish a mindset running the football, something they haven’t done well the past couple of seasons.
On Pittsburgh’s opening offensive possession – really, the only one that mattered since it was the only one in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared – the Steelers had running backs touch the ball on their first five plays.
The results were two carries by starter Le’Veon Bell for 17 yards, a screen pass to speedy rookie Dri Archer for 46 yards and a pair of runs by newcomer LeGarrette Blount for seven yards.
Make no mistake, the Steelers want their offense to flow not just through the hands of Roethlisberger, but through the legs of their running backs.
Sure, Roethlisberger is still going to be a huge part of this offense. He’s the quarterback.
But the Steelers don’t want him to shoulder the load as he’s had to do the past two seasons. They want more from a running game that produced just 86.4 yards per game in 2013, which ranked 27th in the league.
In Bell, the Steelers feel they have an every-down player, one capable of making a 60-yard run, picking up tough yards, catching a pass out of the backfield or splitting out side on passing downs.
But we didn’t always get to see it last season. He missed the first three games of the season because of injury and was basically learning on the fly.
But he had 485 rushing yards in Pittsburgh’s final six games last season and seems primed to become one of the better all-around running backs in the NFL.
In Blount, who was brought in as a free agent from New England, the Steelers feel they have the perfect compliment. The 6-0, 250-pound bruiser had a 1,000-yard season in 2010 with Tampa but fell out of favor there with a new coaching staff.
He’s on his third team in the past three seasons but there’s no doubt he’ll bring toughness to the team’s backfield that wasn’t there with last year’s backups, Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones.
Archer is the wildcard.
Though he’s just 5-8, 173 pounds, he adds an element of speed that has likely never been seen in a Steelers uniform before.
Archer’s 40-time at the NFL combine was officially 4.26 seconds, making it the second-fastest on record. Unofficially, the Steelers had him much faster than that, coming in under 4.2 seconds.
Either way, he can fly.
And unlike past forays into the speed-type backs – Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey – Archer seems to be more of a football player than just another track star.
It all adds up to making Roethlisberger not feel like he has to shoulder everything offensively, which was a problem, particularly early last season.
Roethlisberger threw 14 interceptions in 2013, but five came in the first four games. More importantly, he lost several fumbles, holding onto the football too long trying to make something happen that just wasn’t there.
Roethlisberger topped his career high for pass attempts in 2013 with 584, 71 more than his previous high.
If the Steelers can cut that number to 500 with an improved running game, they will be much better off this season.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.