When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Melvin Ingram on Monday afternoon, it was expected that he would be able to contribute as a part-time/rotational pass rusher that could spell Alex Highsmith or T.J. Watt for several plays or possibly a full series while also having the ability to play alongside either due to his ability to line up all over the defensive front and generate pressure on the QB.
However, given the amount of money Ingram signed for and the high expectations placed upon Highsmith heading into Year Two with the team, we may see Ingram play more snaps on defense than the 10-15 per game we may have pegged him for given his skillset and caliber as an edge defender. Thus, he should be on the field for at least some early down work and short yardage situations, hence why I wanted to take a deeper dive into his traits as a defender against the run to see what exactly he brings to Pittsburgh from that standpoint.
The first thing that pops out from watching some of Ingram’s tape against the run is his effort in pursuit of the football. Much like when he is rushing the passer, Ingram shows an urgency in playing chase to the ball carrier, having a motor that runs hot as he attacks the LOS to make an impact at stopping the run. We see that pursuit here on this rep against Denver where Ingram crosses the face inside of the TE that is supposed to block him, giving him the long arm as he shoots the gap and brings down the ball carrier in the backfield for a loss on the play.
His backside pursuit of the football is impressive at times watching him bend around the edge and get around the block to attack the runner in the backfield. Just this past season against the Raiders we see Ingram outside shade of the LT and sidestep him to the corner, flattening down the line to the ball and attacks his shoulder, getting in on the gain tackle for a short gain on the play.
Now, you may have liked to see him go lower and take out the runner’s legs to limit yardage, but the pursuit and acceleration around the edge are great to see from the now 32-year old.
Here is another example of his effort in backside pursuit against Kansas City in 2019 where they run to the right away from him, but he still manages to chase down #26 Damien Williams from behind for little-to-no gain.
His quickness as a pass rusher shows up in his ability against the run as well as he loves to give a juke/hesi step to the blocker to get them going one way then counter back to the opposite hole to make a play in the backfield. We see that here against the Rams where Ingram fakes outside and counters back inside, getting RT #79 Rob Havenstein falling forward and losing his balance and wraps up #30 Todd Gurley five yards behind the LOS to set LA back for a 2nd and long.
As mentioned in the pass rush piece on Ingram, he possesses a short, stocky frame when compared to most edge rushers. Much like former Steeler James Harrison, this allows Ingram to play with superior leverage against larger, taller offensive linemen across from him. Here against Miami, we see fire off the ball and get underneath the shoulder pads of the offensive tackle, shocking him backward with a powerful punch right into #23 Jay Ajayi to trip him up and bring him to the ground all-the-while putting the RT on his back.
This may have been a few years ago, but still shows Ingram’s ability to win low and play with power against the run.
Ingram is an instinctual run defender as well, playing assignment-sound football and understands that he has to keep outside contain and take care of his assignment on zone read plays, whether that be the give to the running back or the possible keep by the QB. We see the latter here against the Ravens and Lamar Jackson as Ingram is patient in allowing Jackson to show he is keeping the rock and then commits immediately to the QB, wrapping up quickly for no gain on the play.
However, there are sometimes where Ingram’s eagerness and urgency can get the better of him. On this play this past season against the Bengals, we see Ingram and the entire defense run upfield, parting the Red Sea for QB #9 Joe Burrow to run up the middle and scamper to the end zone for the rushing score untouched. Now, we could point out the interior defensive line could have done a better job on closing the pocket up the middle, but I do want to put some notice on Ingram as he did run himself vertically up the pocket and away from the play. Overall though, this was an obvious bust by the defense and a well-executed run by Burrow to take advantage.
Despite having that stout frame and strong build for the edge position, Ingram is susceptible to being engulfed by size and power at times as a run defender. The man is undersized at 6’2, 247lb and can struggle to hold up when taking blockers head-on like we see on this play against New England where the TE gets a piece of Ingram initially as #61 Marcus Cannon comes in to run him out to the side and into the second level, getting his outside shoulder.
Ingram could have tried to play with a better anchor, but Cannon at 335lb has nearly 100lb of mass on him moving forward, not to mention the double team block at the point of attack is going to be difficult for any defensive player to overcome.
Overall, I came away pretty pleased of what I saw from Ingram as a run defender. He plays with phenomenal effort in pursuit of the ball and has the strength and leverage to hold his own at the point of attack, being difficult to beat for longer offensive tackles that he can get under with relative ease. While his anxiousness to fly into the backfield can cause him to overrun plays at times and his lack of size can be an issue when taking on blockers coming head-on at him, he is a reliable, instinctive defender that you can normally count on to execute his assignment and be in the right position to make a play.
I would expect him to rotate in often early on with Alex Highsmith as he continues to improve his run defense and could earn more of a role on early down work should Highsmith struggle initially in said role or if T.J. Watt needs to rest to be fresh for key pass rush situations late in games.
What are your initial thoughts on Melvin Ingram as a run defender? Do you think that he could push Alex Highsmith for work on early downs to start the season and earn more snaps on defense than we may have thought at the time of the signing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!