Got into a minor but annoying little Twitter snit after my story on Pittsburgh ran. The large point of the Pittsburgh piece (I hope) was not that the Steelers run the ball a lot, but that they stand for the same things that they've always stood for, one of these things being a power running game. This seems pretty obvious to me.
But a few people wrote in to rather bluntly deny this. They say that Pittsburgh is now a passing team and has been for more than five years. They say that I completely missed this development. And this would not be surprising ... I miss many developments. But in this case, though my original point was not that Pittsburgh is a running team, I feel pretty sure that I'm right that Pittsburgh is still about running the football.
Start here: In today's NFL, every team is a passing team. The rules make it so. In 2010, every single team in the NFL gained more yards passing the ball than running. Same was true in 2008* and 2007. Every year, the vast majority of teams gain more passing than rushing.
*We skip 2009, because the Jets actually gained more rushing than passing that year.
So what makes a running team? I would suggest a running team is the kind of team that runs the ball more often than other teams. The last five years (which is the time frame we're talking about), only two teams in the NFL -- the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens -- ran the ball more than the Steelers. That would seem to qualify them as a running team. Six years ago, the Steelers ran the ball more often than any team in the NFL.
The last five years, only the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills have thrown the ball FEWER times than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The last five years, only the Atlanta Falcons (50.4%) have run the ball more often as a percentage of plays than the Pittsburgh Steelers (50.3%).
All of this seems to suggest to me pretty strongly that they still believe in running the ball in Pittsburgh. Of course, show people those numbers and they quickly point out that they are skewed because the Steelers are ahead all the time and are running out time in the fourth quarter, and that's why it LOOKS like they run the ball a lot.
But is that right? I don't think so. The most successful teams of the last five years are New England and Indianapolis. They were two of the top seven in pass attempts that last five years. The Patriots ran the ball 45.7% of the time, the Colts 42.6%.
In fact if you look at percentages, over the last five years the Eagles, Packers, Rams, Saints and Colts have thrown the ball most often and four of those five teams have had a lot of success. The Falcons, Steelers, Panthers, Titans and Jets run the ball most often and, collectively, that's not as impressive a group.
Also: It seems to me that part of being a running team is exactly this: You try to take leads and pound the ball down people's throats in the fourth quarter.
Yes, the Steelers have been throwing for more yards than ever before. Ben Roethlisberger set the team record last year by throwing for 4,328 yards last year. But it seems to me that's more about the times than about any change in philosophy. Pittsburgh this year, as Brilliant Reader Dustin pointed out, ran for 920 more yards than opponents, which tied them with the New York Jets for highest differential. Which sort of gets to my point: Run the ball and stop the run. It's timeless. They come for your heart in Pittsburgh.