It was strange to see the Steelers and Giants struggle to establish the run in 2011. After all these are two franchises largely defined by their commitment to productive, power running attacks.
Yet in 2011, things came to a grinding halt on the ground for both Big Blue and the Black and Gold. The Steelers' rush offense ranked 14th, a modest number for a team with such an illustrious history running the ball.
Things were even more shameful for the Giants, who had to endure the ignominy of ranking dead last in rushing yards and rush average, in the entire league. Of course eventually winning the Super Bowl certainly took the colour out of those blushes, but getting more production out of the running game was a priority heading into their title defense.
That's what prompted the Giants to draft Virginia Tech speedster David Wilson with their first-round pick. But it has been incumbent warhorse Ahmad Bradshaw who has sparked New York's rushing revival.
He got things started with a phenomenal Week 5 showing against the lowly Cleveland Browns. Bradshaw rushed for 200 yards and a touchdown on that day, but his efforts the next week were more impressive.
On the road against a San Francisco 49ers' run defense that has set records for being stingy, Bradshaw bruised his way for 116 yards and a score. He averaged 4.3 yards a carry and inspired the Giants to a decisive win.
Bradshaw has always had the initial burst and open field quickness of a big-play runner. But he is running with more tenacity and power than in recent years.
It has taken an unheralded reserve to bring the run back to the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers. Jonathan Dwyer has taken advantage of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, to position himself as Pittsburgh's primary ball carrier.
The results have been highly impressive, as Dwyer has produced two-straight 100-yard rushing efforts, both leading to Steelers wins. Dwyer runs with his shoulders square and isn't afraid to barrel his way through would-be tacklers.
He is averaging 5.2 yards a carry and has restored genuine balance to Pittsburgh's offense. The 5'11" 229-pounder is a natural fit for the power scheme the Steelers love.
That power scheme is something both teams share. It is different from the zone-blocking system that is the vogue in many NFL running schemes today.
The zone scheme favours linemen quickly shifting in tandem and overwhelming linebackers and defensive backs in space. By contrast, the power scheme relies on winning one-on-one blocks along the line of scrimmage and is easily identifiable by pulling linemen, usually guards and tackles.
These linemen act as lead blockers for power runners on the sweep plays that are a staple of the system. You'll see both the Steelers and the Giants do this on Sunday.
Whichever team has more success creating the most yards for either Dwyer or Bradshaw, will win this game.
image: © tedkerwin