Coming off a season-best 166-yard rushing performance in last Thursday night's 20-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Acrisure Stadium, the Steelers are feeling good about where their ground game might be headed.
Now, facing the Green Bay Packers (3-5) Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, the next step for the Steelers (5-3) is to put together another solid effort.
The Steelers have moved the ball in fits and spurts, at times, but haven't strung together two efficient offensive games in a row. But against the Titans, they had four drives that included 10 or more plays on eight meaningful possessions – not counting quarterback Kenny Pickett taking a knee on the game's final play.
It was something the Steelers did regularly in 2022, when only the Kansas City Chiefs had more double-digit play possessions than the Steelers.
And the key was getting the running game going and winning on first downs. Not only did the Steelers average 5.5 yards per carry against the Titans, they averaged 5.4 yards per play on first downs, putting them in much more manageable situations on second and third downs and leading to the team staying on the field longer.
It also led to the team's first touchdown on the opening possession of a game this season. Building on all of that has been the task this week.
"We ran the ball more than normal, and obviously every game we go in and have a plan," Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "It might have just been more because we stayed on the field more. We had longer drives."
Pickett didn't have his best statistical game, throwing for just 160 yards and a touchdown, but he completed 19 of 30 passes and was not sacked, while the Steelers did not turn the ball over. The Steelers are 3-0 this season when they don't turn the ball over and 4-1 when they have one or fewer turnovers.
"It always comes down to execution," Canada said. "I think the guys went out and executed well. And we continue to build off of plays. … So in the complimentary football was there, run to pass. I think all those things clicked and we managed to have a couple of sustaining drives which when you do that, it allows you to kind of get into more parts of your offense and the guys executed very well."
The Steelers did so with two big changes to what they did against the Titans.
First, Canada moved down to the sideline to call the plays for that game after previously being in the press box in all of his previous games as the Steelers coordinator. Second, rookie Broderick Jones, the team's first-round draft pick this season, started at right tackle in place of Chuks Okorafor.
"I thought he stepped up to the challenge," Canada said of Jones. "He's played both sides. We had him on the left. I think that's a real compliment to him that he jumped in there and played on the right side. He was on a short week. He plays with high energy and high emotion, and I thought that was a real positive with what he did. He played physical. You know a lot of things to correct, but there always are."
As for being on the sideline for the game, something he hadn't done since he was interim head coach at Maryland, Canada said it worked and that was all that mattered.
There's pluses and minuses to all of it. There's upstairs you see things, on the field you see more face to face. We made a decision (in an attempt) to play better, and obviously the result worked out Thursday night, so it was great," Canada said.
"All we're trying to to do is win, and we are always hunting different things and different deals with that. And obviously, when I was upstairs or am upstairs, I'm always talking to Kenny. That's no different (on the field), we can talk. But I have the ability to talk to the other guys to make sure we were together. That was something we felt that was a bonus for us to do. "We're going to look at every single thing or whatever we can do to make things better and continue to find ways to win."
It's all about finding that consistent rhythm the team had in the second half of last season when the Steelers averaged 146.2 yards rushing per game and won seven of their final nine games.
"All we care about is winning," Canada said. "What the Pittsburgh Steelers want is to find a way to win, however we get it done."