In their first two games of the 2014 season the Pittsburgh Steelers defense gave up 348 yards rushing. While they’ve only given up a total of 161 yards on the ground in their last three games, it’s way still too early to label the run defense as being fixed.
While their defense should be commended for only allowing 3.58 yards per carry in the last three games, you need to keep in mind that the three teams that they played during that stretch, the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, all featured mostly power running schemes and their offensive lines weren’t overly athletic or accomplished.
Sunday, the Steelers will once again play the Cleveland Browns, who ran for 191 yards in the season-opener. The Browns gashed the Pittsburgh defense with outside zone runs and misdirection back in Week 1 and there’s no reason to think that they won’t follow that same script this coming Sunday.
To the Browns credit, they didn’t panic when the Steelers had them down 24 points at halftime in the season opener. Instead, they stuck with their running game in the second half and the only real noticeable change offensively was that they used a lot of no-huddle. In fact, they ran the football 20 times during their 40 second half plays in route to nearly pulling off an amazing comeback.
Against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, the Browns were down 28-3 with 2:44 left in the half and they once again stayed patient with their running game. This time, however, it paid off as the Browns 29-28 win was biggest comeback in the history of the organization. They finished that game with 175 yards rushing.
Against the Titans, the Browns used all three of their running backs with Ben Tate getting the lion’s share of the carries. The Steelers can expect the same formula Sunday on top of a heavy dose of no-huddle early and often.
If the Steelers defense is able to shut down the Browns inside and outside zone running game this time around, it will be a positive sign moving forward. If they don’t, they will likely need the offense to put another 30 points in order to win the game.
We’ll know for certain Sunday afternoon if the run defense is indeed fixed or if the last three weeks was merely a result of them playing teams with very inferior running games.