The return of nose tackle Steve McLendon to the lineup was a welcome sight for the Pittsburgh Steelers after missing action since the Jets game. With their nose tackle back on the field, the defense did a better job of controlling the Cincinnati Bengals’ rushing attack, which is where McLendon had his biggest impact in his 25 snaps back in action.
Although the Steelers did allow quarterback Andy Dalton to sneak in on a 20-yard run late in the first half for a touchdown, McLendon was not on the field for that play. Outside of that play, in fact, the Bengals gained only 66 yards on 20 rushing attempts, with a long, outside of Dalton’s run, of 15, on a play in which rookie Stephon Tuitt was sucked inside.
The Steelers held the home team to one first down on their first two possessions, with the second of the two being a three and out. McLendon helped get that drive started on the right foot for the defense as he helped bottle up the running game.
Off the snap, McLendon walked down the line of scrimmage with the center, helping to funnel Jeremy Hill to the gap to his left. As Cameron Heyward scraped off a block to make the tackle, McLendon also released, coming back around to jump on the ball carrier from behind.
McLendon and Heyward both did a nice job of clogging up the interior running lanes on this short-yardage carry early in the second quarter, but Hill was able to wriggle free to get just enough for the first down. Still, I like the nose tackle’s ability to manipulate the center here, and had Heyward not turned the back out of the hole, it may have been McLendn making the tackle and preventing a first down.
On the following play, the Bengals broke open over the top with a long 56-yard pass to A.J. Green, but McLendon deserves some credit for getting into the backfield on this occasion. After walking a bit with the center to the right, the nose tackle was able to rip past the lineman, eventually getting a hit on the quarterback, but not before the ball was already out.
For one snap in the game, early in the third quarter, the Steelers brought out a defensive line that consisted of McLendon at right defensive end, Cam Thomas at left, and Daniel McCullers at nose tackle. The Bengals tried to run up the middle in the Wildcat with Mohammed Sanu. Didn’t really work out. The defensive line was able to clog up the trenches as the perimeter defense cut around inside to stop the run.
This play later in the quarter showed what makes McLendon a unique asset at nose tackle. While he initially lost his footing working through a double team, he regained his feet to chase down a screen to a nifty back for a five-yard gain.