If you’re going to be a defense that is embarrassed on the ground, it’s better to be an opportunistic unit that can help your offense pull out a win in the end, and that is exactly what this Pittsburgh Steelers unit did on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, allowing more than 250 rushing yards, but recording four takeaways—and a win.
Still, this is a team that is not happy about having allowed the Ravens to rush for 265 yards against them. It was the first time since 1993 that the defense had allowed any team to rush for that much against them in a single game—before a lot of these defenders were even born.
“When you look back at gap integrity, we’ve got to understand that we’ve got to be patient with our defense”, captain Cameron Heyward told reporters yesterday. “Sometimes when things aren’t going right or as well as we want them to go, we tend to get impatient and sacrifice our gap integrity in our alignment, because ‘I’ve got to make a play’”.
That is, he said, “instead of saying, ‘we’ve got this, we can rely on everybody being in their gap, and if I don’t make the play, somebody else is gonna make the play’. And those are things that we can correct”. He added, as they ‘ve been able to do for months now, that it’s easier to do in a win.
Among the notable performances against the Steelers in the game was that of rookie second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, who recorded the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, going for 113 yards on 15 carries. Gus Edwards also managed 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while quarterback Lamar Jackson added another 65 yards on 16 rushing attempts.
The Ravens only had three drives in the game in which they failed to register at least one first down, and two of them were the ones on which Jackson was intercepted. In fact, they picked up at least three first downs on five of their 12 total drives, including hitting five first downs twice.
Needless to say, so much of that was because of the work they were able to do on the ground, not just on staying ahead of the chains and on schedule, but in hitting the gaps and picking up fairly sizable yardage at a time.
Heyward knows this has to be cleaned up in a hurry. “Here, we’ve got to understand that from here on out, it takes 11 guys”, he said. “It takes a whole team to make a village. Everybody’s just got to do their 1/11th, and we’ll be fine in doing that”.
Of course the Steelers lost one of their best run defenders on the first drive of the game and were already playing without another of their best run defenders, so it’s not like they were running at 100 percent capacity or even with the personnel that they practiced with. On top of that, they were breaking in a new personnel package and still adjusting to playing without Devin Bush.
But none of that excuses 265 yards on the ground, or for blowing gap assignments.