The biggest story on Monday for the Pittsburgh Steelers on defense was obvious and indisputable. It was all about their run defense, and how they held one of the best and most talented running backs in the game to just six yards on 15 rushes. More than half of his carries resulted in lost yardage.
This wasn’t by accident, but rather by design. Multiple defenders, such as T.J. Watt, talked about how their gameplan was centered around “smashing the run” to start out, understanding that Barkley is still the nucleus of the New York Giants’ offense, with young quarterback Daniel Jones still developing.
But the Steelers remain one of the teams who still believe that any good defense begins by stopping the run and making opponents one-dimensional. If you know that your opponent has to pass the ball, it’s easier to defend. This was the basis of Dick LeBeau’s defensive philosophy, and remains in place under Keith Butler.
“A lot of people think it’s outdated, but I don’t”, he said about focusing on stopping the run on Thursday, via transcript. “Everybody in the league comes in thinking the passing game is bigger, more exciting, stuff like that for the NFL”.
“They come in thinking they are going to throw the ball a little bit more, but if you look at the people who were successful last year, what did they do?”, he added, noting the fact that some of the top rushing teams in the league last season were also among the most successful.
“You look at Kansas City. Kansas City has a good throwing team. They do a great job at throwing the ball, but they did run the ball too”, Butler continued. “You look at the Ravens. They were probably the top-running team in the league, and look how far—they won our division, stuff like that. The run is still very, very important, and it’s still very, very important to us to stop the run and get them in situations where we know they are going to throw the football and then try to defend them in those circumstances”.
Although it sounds as though the Broncos may be without Phillip Lindsey, Butler’s group still has to contend with Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries against the Tennessee Titans. Gordon is a multiple-time Pro Bowler, who scored 38 touchdowns between the 2016 and 2018 seasons.
“Gordon is new to them, a former LA Charger”, Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday, “a top-quality back, a guy that toted the mail for them [on Monday night], and a guy we should anticipate being capable of doing that as we step into the stadium this week”.
The Steelers were one of the top defenses against the run in 2019, ranking first in rushing touchdowns allowed and third in yards per attempt allowed, despite facing among the most rushing attempts of any defense. They picked up where they left off against Barkley and the Giants, but will have to continue to play at a high level.