It's been a rough year for running the football in the NFL so far. The league is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush through two weeks, a full half-yard behind the pace set in 2012. With passing offense steady at 5.4 yards per play, the league continues to tilt towards the aerial attack.
The running game has suffered the most in Pittsburgh, where the 0-2 Steelers have averaged an AFC-worst 2.4 yards per carry and a league worst 16 percent success rate on the ground. The Steelers are the classic "hard-nosed identity" team and as such have a reputation as a team that wins with its work on the ground. This has been a bit exaggerated during the Ben Roethlisberger era -- the 2010 AFC Champion team, for example, finished just 18th in yards per carry, and the Super Bowl champion squad in 2008 finished 29th.
Still, the club has always presented the run. The 2008 Steelers were ninth in rushing attempts at nearly 30 per game. Surely this is partially due to clock running, but the 15-1 Packers in 2011, for example, finished 26th in rushing attempts despite a large amount of garbage time.
Through two games this year, Pittsburgh's rushing attack has been too feeble to even be an option. Observe, the Steelers' 31 rushing attempts in 2013 by location and yardage gained:
Even when the Steelers had a merely mediocre running game, they were able to use it to keep pressure off Ben Roethlisberger and to set him up with easier third down passes. At even three yards per carry, the Steelers run game may serve some use. But with Pittsburgh's line and running back corps in shambles and averaging under 2.5 yards per carry, every run fuels a feedback loop of failure.
The obvious solution is to fix the personnel issues, but the NFL is not a league teeming with freely available talent. If Pittsburgh is to make something of this bad situation, the answer may be to just drop back and gun it -- anything's better than the current options running the ball.