The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Was the shoddy run defense a one-game aberration?
Let me preface this by saying that, no, we don’t know the answer. These questions are not always designed to have an answer—in fact, it’s frequently the opposite. It’s setting the table for a question that still requires an answer. In this case, the answer must be given on the field.
And the Steelers will certainly be looking to provide an emphatic response on Sunday against the Ravens after they were embarrassed by the Bears to the tune of 220 rushing yards on 38 carries, averaging 5.8 yards per rush. I have memorized those figures by now, such was their impact on the game.
73 of those yards came on just three runs to close out the game in overtime, a 36-yarder succeeded by gains of 18 and 19 yards, the last ending in the end zone for the walk-off score.
The Steelers have gotten measurably better in defending outside zone runs in recent years after they put greater emphasis on lateral mobility in their defensive linemen, but that proved to be little help on Sunday, in part because of those in the back eight missing their gaps, or members in the secondary failing to crack and replace. Missed tackles were a heavy burden as well.
It would be unfortunate to see so much of their hard-earned progress over the years fall by the wayside. In truth, Sunday’s defense against the run seemed to get everything wrong at times in an unrepeatable manner.
In spite of this, they still showed that they can play the run on isolated plays. They recorded six tackles for loss against the run, which is a high number. The Steelers did not lose yardage on any running play during the game. The Bears lost 18 yards.
That is quite a small sliver for a silver lining, but it’s something. The Ravens’ running game—down two running backs, both starting guards, and generally worse at every position compared to last year sans left tackle—may prove to be a salve. But then again they don’t exactly have a good recent history in Baltimore.