The Pittsburgh Steelers have taken pride in their run defense this season, and rightfully so after beginning a turnaround from a steady drop off in recent years. While the defense ranked relatively favorably a year ago in terms of yards per game allowed on the ground, their yards per carry allowed was quite poor.
This year, the Steeler rank well in both categories, as they have held all but two runners this season under 100 yards. Another had 96, but they have had just four runners total accumulate over 60 yards on the season, and six who have eclipsed 50 yards.
One of those six happened to be a quarterback, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, who of course has since gone on injured reserve. The former second-round pick rushed for 51 yards against the Steelers on nine carries, but he has really been the only quarterback to find much success in this area.
In the team’s last game, Johnny Manziel rushed for a total of 17 yards on three carries, though 11 of that total came on one carry in which he escaped a sack, pump faked, and then scrambled from the 12-yard line, very nearly scoring a touchdown.
Outside of a 10-yard run from Nick Foles in Week Two, the defense has done a good job for the most part keeping opposing quarterbacks in the pocket and out of escape lanes. In fact, Mike Vick’s 99 yards surpasses all the ground yardage accumulated by the 10 quarterbacks the Steelers have faced, combined. The rest of the quarterbacks have accumulated 20 yards on 12 rushes, excluding kneel downs.
But on Sunday, the Steelers are going up against Russell Wilson, who is arguably the most dangerous quarterback on the run today short of Cam Newton and the 11-0 Panthers. In the Seahawks’ first 10 games, Wilson has 400 rushing yards on 59 carries, when removing kneel downs, averaging 6.8 yards per rush.
On the season, the fourth-year pro has rushed for at least 21 yards per game, obviously averaging 40 per game over the span of 10 games—minus kneel downs. He has also rushed for over 50 yards three times, including a high of 78 yards.
He has two explosive runs on the year, and 13 thus far of double figures, so he certainly should be treated as a threat by this defense. Against the most comparable runner the Steelers have faced this season, they have surrendered runs of 14, 10, 8, and 7 yards to Kaepernick back in the second week of the season.
And Ryan Shazier was exceptional in keeping Kaepernick in check during that game, responsible for bringing him down four times, plus a sack. Shazier has not exactly been the same since that breakout performance.
While the Steelers have undoubtedly taken a step forward in their run defense this year, they are about to face their biggest challenge, a challenge that has as much to do with Wilson’s legs, and what that does to open up the ground game, that they have faced all season. Will they be able to step off fresh off a week of rest?