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Run Defense Quietly Strong Against Cleveland

While it doesn’t seem to be a very popular topic right now, the hard truth of the matter is that the Pittsburgh Steelers did in fact win on Sunday, and part of their ability to win was predicated on doing some things well. One of the things that they did well was play against the run.

That play against the run, mind you, came against the Cleveland Browns’ shiny new offensive line that includes highly-compensated starters like Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, and Kevin Zeitler, going from left tackle to right guard, while second-year man Shon Coleman is so far manning the right tackle spot.

That offensive line group did not do particularly well in terms of opening things up for the running game. The Browns gained just 57 yards on 25 carries, and 17 of those yards actually came from a number of scrambles from quarterback DeShone Kizer.

The two running backs who carried the ball were Isaiah Crowell and Matt Dayes, with third-year running back Duke Johnson now being used more as a wide receiver than a running back. Crowell, the starter, managed just 33 yards on 17 rushing attempts, while the rookie Dayes added seven yards on three attempts. Neither running back had a gain long than six yards, though Kizer had an 11-yard scramble.

It did not help Crowell that his afternoon kicked off with Stephon Tuitt stringing him out to the perimeter and running him out of bounds for a loss of nine yards, but even then he still will have only gained 42 yards on 16 rushing attempts after that, which is a far cry from efficiency.

The running back added a four-yard gain on a third-and-23 draw on the following play, and then his first successful carry, a five-yard run, on the first play of the next drive. But the Steelers generally held him in check throughout the day.

Despite being just a three-yard gain, Dayes’ first carry was actually a successful one, as it converted a second-and-two. Earlier in the drive, Kizer’s one-yard quarterback sneak was good for a conversion on third and one. But his 11-yard scramble actually came on third and 16, so the Browns’ best running play of the night by yardage was deemed a failure.

In all, the Browns had very few positive, successful running plays, and that put the brunt of the burden for Cleveland on their rookie quarterback, who produced a mixed bag of results. Kizer made a handful of nice throws, but his accuracy and decision-making waivered, his pocket awareness was poor, and his scrambling was held in check. So kudos to the run defense.

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