The Pittsburgh Steelers run defense still can’t be considered great but it has managed to level out over the last several weeks.
There is some natural regression at play but one of the largest factors in the Steelers’ moderate success is the denial of splash plays in the run game.
Based off of our master charting, the Steelers allowed 28 runs of ten or more yards throughout the first eight weeks. Contrast that to the last seven weeks, the defense is allowing just 15. And only one of those in the latter half going for more than 20 yards. Compare to six instances during the first half of the season and it’s clear to see the defense has made progress.
It’s no surprise the defense’s yards per carry, excluding QB scrambles, has dipped from 4.4 to 3.8, though because of how poor it was for those first eight weeks, the overall figure still stands at 4.3.
This isn’t centric to any individual player being on or off the field. It’s not valuing or devaluing any particular player. Even when Cam Thomas is logging snaps, the Steelers’ run defense is still strong (2.9 YPC during the last seven weeks when he’s playing). Sound run defense becomes an eleven man job. The defensive line to hold the point of attack and two gap, the linebackers to shed blocks and make tackles, the corners to set the edge, and the safeties to clean up any breakdowns.
There has been a greater effort to rally to the ball carrier while eliminating the missed tackles that plagued the black and gold so often out of the gate. At one point, it was perhaps the team’s biggest issue. Now, just an afterthought.
But the unit will certainly be tested Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill has rushed for just shy of 300 yards over the last two weeks. He’s a splash play maker with 25 runs over 10 yards in his first season. Hill had three of those (one receiving) despite 11 touches in his first matchup with the Steelers.
This includes a mesmerizing 85 yard scamper in Monday night’s victory against the Denver Broncos. If you saw it, you know the threat he is.
Iron sharpens iron. And whichever team can weather the storm Sunday will lay claim to the AFC North.