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: How will the run defense handle the Jaguars’ rushing attack at home?
The Steelers have shown some positive signs in their run defense—and admitted, their worst game against the run came without Stephon Tuitt in the lineup, as well as T.J. Watt—but there have been enough flashes that have left a cause for concern.
As we talked about yesterday, their down-to-down performance against the run is actually not so bad, and they even have their fair share of stops, and tackles for loss. But the big plays tend to stick out, and they’ve allowed a dozen or so runs of 10 or more yards already, which really puts a thumb on the scales.
According to Dave Bryan’s stat-mining, the Steelers have actually been hurt most out of their 3-4 defense, and I would suspect that a lot of that came against the Bears, where it wasn’t so much the defensive line as it was the back end missing run fills, or the defense as a whole not responding to shifts in strength.
The Steelers did, outside of a 50-yard run, a solid job against the Ravens, and even had five tackles for loss against the run. But there have been too many of those big plays, even if that was the longest run allowed of the season, and the first of 40 or more yards.
Tomorrow, the team will be tested by a rushing offense that loves to force the issue on the ground in the Jaguars behind rookie Leonard Fournette and veteran Chris Ivory. Both of them can catch out of the backfield as well, which could make defending the run even more difficult.
This is only their second game at home, so it will be interesting to see what sort of effect if any that has, as they tend to have more struggles in communication when they are on the road.