Steelers look to get struggling ground game going against Titans
Consider this scenario: The Steelers rush for 225 yards and three touchdowns to punctuate offensive line coach Mike Munchak’s return to Tennessee. They go into their bye week on a high note with a road win over a bad team that puts them within percentage points of first place in the AFC North with less than a month to go.
“Absolutely,” guard Ramon Foster said. “That sounds good to me.”
It’s a real possibility heading into Monday night’s matchup with the 2-7 Titans in Nashville, a place the Steelers have struggled. They are 2-8 all-time in Tennessee, including 1-2 at LP Field.
A win will move the Steelers within .014 percentage points of Cincinnati for the top spot in the division with five games left. But to remain in the division title hunt, they know they need to jump-start their ground game that’s been irrelevant the past two weeks.
That could happen against a porous Titans defense that’s ranked 29th and has allowed four 100-yard rushers in nine games.
“We have to run the ball better,” tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “We have to open up holes better and sustain blocks better. It’s not a hard concept. It’s just something that we have to do.”
The Steelers attempts, yards and yards per carry have plummeted over the past two weeks, partly because of the success of the passing game against the Ravens and getting behind early against the Jets.
The Steelers rushing attack has fallen six spots the past two weeks to 15th in yards per game (110.8) and has experienced a significant drop in yards per carry — 4.9 to 2.9 — over the past four games.
Le’Veon Bell, who is second in the AFC with 747 yards, has only 52 the past two games, and the Steelers haven’t had a rushing touchdown since Week 3 (192 carries).
“We just have to get back on the same page,” running back LeGarrette Blount said. “We have to get back to the basics and the things that we know we can go to that works. We have to continue to pound them, and eventually things will come back.”
Blount has been an afterthought since rushing for 118 yards against the Carolina Panthers two months ago. He has rushed for 134 yards (2.8 yards per carry) since.
“We can’t fall behind. That plays a big part in it,” Bell said. “We have to find a way to get into a rhythm. The run game opens up the pass game, and pass game opens the run game. It’s a like a push/pull type of thing. We have the personnel, the talent to do it. We have everything intact to do it. We just have to go out and do it.”
It starts with actually having chance to do it. The Steelers have only 42 attempts over the past two games.
“There will be games where we feel the best way to win is by throwing it,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “There will be games where we feel the best way to win is to try to run the heck out of it.”
The Titans are giving up big yards on the ground (136.6 per game) mostly because their opponents have remained committed to the run. Tennessee is second in attempts against with 32.3 per game. The Steelers have yet to attempt more than 32 rushes in a game.
“I think we want more opportunities to run the football,” Munchak said. “I think we want a chance where we can run the ball 25 to 30 times. To do that, you have to be successful doing it early.
“(The Titans have) had games where it has played very well against the run. And when people have had a lot of opportunities, you get a chance to wear a defense down. That’s what we haven’t been able to do here the last few weeks. That’s something we need to get back to doing this game.”
Four of the Steelers’ final five games are against teams that rank 20th or worse in stopping the run.
“This could really get us going,” Foster said.