The Pittsburgh Steelers, statistically, have the best run defense in the league right now. Although it’s a very small sample size over just three games, they have only allowed 162 yards on the ground so far, or 38 yards fewer than the next-closest team, the Seattle Seahawks, who have given up a record 1292 passing yards over the same span.
Their 2.7 yards per rushing attempt is also the lowest in the NFL after limiting the likes of Saquon Barkley and David Johnson to a pittance on the ground, although Melvin Gordon had a bit more success early on in week two. They have only given up one touchdown on the ground, tied for the fewest in the league.
And up next is the league’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry, who became the first player to rush for over 1500 yards in a season since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. He currently has 319 yards on the ground and is one of just two backs with at least 300 yards. His 82 rushing attempts are the most in the league, as are his 18 first downs on the ground.
“If you’re looking at Tennessee’s offense, it starts with working to minimize Henry and his impact on the game”, head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier today in preparing to face the Titans. “They’ve got a commitment there to running the football, and a commitment to running it with him. He leads the league not only in rushing yards but rushing attempts. They feed that guy the ball, and he’s the type of guy that’s capable of wearing a defense down over the course of time”.
Although Henry is actually averaging slightly under four yards per carry, and as a team the Titans only rank 13th in rushing yards despite having the fourth-most rushing attempts, it is obvious that the running game is what you have to prepare for in facing them.
They are, after all, undefeated through three games. And a lot of that has to do with the quality of their offensive line, as Tomlin acknowledged. “They play really well, Lewan and Saffold particularly, on that left side, wreak havoc. They win the line of scrimmage”, he said. “Those piles fall forward, and they fall forward not only because of the exploits of the running back, but they fall forward because of the talents and the finish of their front”.
This is the most talented offensive line the Steelers have faced so far this year, although Lewan is currently banged up and his status for the game could be in jeopardy. The good news is that Pittsburgh’s front seven is very healthy and playing at a high level as well. This should be a quality matchup between the Titans’ run game and the Steelers’ front seven.