The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers defense is equipped to stop Derrick Henry.
Explanation: The Steelers have one of the best run defenses in the NFL right now, statistically speaking, and just defeated the top-ranked rushing offense in terms of rushing yards per game. Up next, however, they have the current and reigning rushing champion in Derrick Henry, facing the Tennessee Titans on the road.
Derrick Henry is an excellent running back, make no mistake about that, and if you fool yourself into thinking that he is just a physical runner, he’s going to finesse his way to a 60-yard touchdown in the process.
It’s even possible that he manages to break one against the Steelers. But unless it wins the Titans the game, that won’t be an overall victory. The play-to-play attrition is what matters, and that’s where the Steelers have been effective. They’re not just holding teams to few yards per game and per attempt, they’re also registering a high number of tackles in the backfield and allowing low percentages of successful plays.
Henry really helped his 2020 profile with his last game, and especially with a late 94-yard touchdown. Over the team’s first four games, he as only averaging 3.72 yards per attempt. And the Steelers have the most talented front line in the NFL.
Talent and discipline don’t always go hand in hand, though, and we have seen the issues with gap control lead to negative results against this team before. They will be adjusting to a new signal caller and to life without Devin Bush as well, and that’s a factor that’s hard to quantify except to simply recognize it as a major negative.
Henry may not have an incredibly efficient game against this Steelers defense, but he can very well win the war off attrition. The Titans will run him 35 times if they have to, and it may be that 35th touch that finally breaks their back. That’s a part of what makes Henry a great back. He’s built for the heavy load, and embraces that role.