The Pittsburgh Steelers grounded the most prolific rushing attack in the NFL earlier this week. Heading into week six, the Cleveland Browns were averaging nearly 190 yards on the ground per game. The Steelers held them to just 75 yards, at 3.4 yards per attempt, and they failed to get into the end zone on the ground as well.
Head coach Mike Tomlin, however, was not overly impressed with the performance of his run defense as a whole. Not because of the results, but because of the circumstances under which they were revealed. The Steelers jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, and the Browns only ever played three snaps in the game in which they trailed by fewer than two possessions.
“We wanted to stop the run. We talked openly about that group averaging 188 yards a game and that we couldn’t allow that to happen”, Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday. “We answered that challenge, but at the same time as you look at the tape, because we were able to get out in front of those guys, it kind of changed the trajectory of the game. We didn’t get an opportunity to see if we are capable of standing up versus their type of a running game over the course of four quarters just because of game circumstance”.
This is pretty important considering the fact that they are about to face the Tennessee Titans, who may well be the most run-oriented team by disposition in the NFL, behind Pro Bowler Derrick Henry. Over his last 16 games between the regular season and postseason, he has rushed for over 2000 yards with 20 touchdowns.
Over five games, the fifth-year back has already amassed 123 carries, putting up 588 yards on the ground with six touchdowns. His numbers were bolstered by a 22-carry, 212-yard, two-touchdown day on Sunday in an overtime victory against the Houston Texans.
The Steelers, statistically, have one of the top run defenses in the NFL so far this season, but they have also regularly played this season with a lead, often a two-possession lead or better until late in the game.
The Titans game will certainly be their biggest challenge to date, not just in terms of testing their run defense but in their opponents as a whole. Short of the following game against the Baltimore Ravens, or perhaps the later game against the Buffalo Bills, it may be their likeliest to lose.
They don’t want to lose, of course. They have won each of their first five games, and are coming off of their strongest and most complete performance of the year against the highest level of competition they have had the opportunity to go up against so far. This game in Tennessee is just the next step.