What’s the Pittsburgh Steelers biggest priority of the 2019 off season? Well, improving at inside linebacker and at cornerback (if not safety as well) top everyone’s list. As they should. Next comes finding someone to “replace” Antonio Brown.
- That’s where most people’s lists tend to end. They should not.
There’s another off season priority for the Steelers, and while it make take a backseat to the priorities listed above, ignoring it will only come at Pittsburgh’s peril. The Steelers need to strengthen the depth of their offensive backfield. In doing so they’d be wise to remember the contributions of the Mewelde Moore back in 2008…
Steelers Busted Up Backfield Syndrome
It is kind of funny if you think about it. Steelers fans find no shortage of topics to criticize Mike Tomlin on these days, whether its clock management, challenges, talent evaluation, locker room control or getting tripped up on trap games.
- But people rarely, if ever mention the inability of Mike Tomlin teams to reach season’s end with both RB Number 1 and RB Number 2 healthy.
Yet the numbers are there for all to see. Whether we’re talking about Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell or the duo of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, Mike Tomlin has shown little inclination to limit the work load of his starting running backs.
- While that’s a debatable strategy to begin with, it is even more dubious if when you fail to adequately staff your running back depth chart.
This is after all the team that started Ben Tate, Josh Harris and Dri Archer in the playoffs one year, and Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman a year later.
First Step – Admitting You Have a Problem
While the Steelers brass hasn’t issued a mea culpa, there are signs that the coaches have realized they have a problem. Before it became clear that Le’Veon Bell’s hold out would become permanent, James Conner was on track to touch the ball 378 times this year.
Although the Steelers dramatically cut back on Conner’s carries starting with the Panther’s game, James Conner got hurt anyway. That forced rookie Jaylen Samuels into the starting role despite never having played running back full time in his football life.
Fortunately, Samuels was up to the task. Unfortunately, it left the Steelers one play away from starting Stevan Ridley or Trey Edmunds as their starting running back.
- Consequently, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to throw a record 675 passes.
The Steelers offense couldn’t control the clock, and airing the ball out resulted in more turnovers – even if Ben Roethlisberger’s interception percentage was down.
Solution Staff Moore Running Back Depth
While it is easy to play arm chair head coach and criticize Mike Tomlin and Randy Fitchner for passing too much, the fact is that their personnel left them little choice. This is one case where the arm chair general managers have the upper hand. Steelers history backs this up.
- It certainly is true that the passing game is preeminent in today’s NFL
- It may also be true that “Three yards and a cloud of dust” smash mouth “Steelers football” only delivered wins in Super Bowl’s IX and Super Bowl XL
But it is also true that the Steelers lone Lombardi Trophy of the Tomlin era came in 2008, when the front office had the foresight to staff a running back depth chart that was 3 and arguably 4 players deep. The plan was rely on Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall, with Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell serving as backups.
- Willie Parker got hurt in week 5 against Philadelphia, and Rashard Mendenhall got hurt in week 6 against the Ravens.
Mewelede Moore hadn’t just been overlooked by the Pittsburgh media, having signed as a free agent the same day Ben Roethlisberger signed his first extension, the coaches had ignored him too as Carey Davis got the call when Mendenhall got injured in Baltimore.
- But the next week against Jacksonville, the Steelers started Moore who rushed for 99 yards and caught 17 more in the air.
Moore rushed for 120 yards the following week, and piled up just under 800 all-purpose yards while only making 4 starts. I’ve long argued that Mewelede Moore was the unsung hero of the Steelers 2008 season which ended in victory at Super Bowl XLIII.
- How might have 2018 turned out had the Steelers dedicated a roster spot to another running back instead of say, Justin Hunter?
We’ll never know. But we do know that the Steelers brass’ decision to staff running back depth charts which are essentially only two players deep has carried steep costs in December and January time and time again.
James Conner and Jaylen Samuels give the Steelers two good backs going into 2019. Regardless of whether he comes from free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft, the Steelers must bring a third running back to Pittsburgh; Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin must find the 2019 equivalent of Mewelde Moore.