2021 South Side Questions: How Much Concern About Run Defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: How much concern should there be about the Steelers’ run defense?

The Steelers’ defense played pretty great in the first half. The second half? Eh, no so much. Not only did they allow the Seattle Seahawks, with a backup quarterback, put up 20 points, they were utterly dominated by their running game, without their starting running back.

And it was an old nemesis, Alex Collins, who once had a great game running the ball against them, also in overtime, with the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago. The veteran ultimately rushed for 101 yards on 20 carries, but the running backs as a team rushed for 145 yards on 26 carries, averaging well over five yards per carry.

The first couple of drives of the second half in particular were simply embarrassing for the Steelers’ run defense. Even Cameron Heyward was losing some of his one-on-one reps. T.J. Watt overran a play or two being overaggressive. The middle linebackers were in the wrong gaps, or sharing gaps.

This was perhaps the worst game of the season so far for the run defense, even in a win. So where does it stand, and where can it get to? The Steelers were seemingly missing nose tackle Isaiah Buggs for most of the second half, and Carlos Davis is still working his way back.

Then you have the prospect of Stephon Tuitt perhaps returning sometime after the bye week. How much will those additions positively contribute to the Steelers’ ability to stop the run? Even before this game, they had allowed over 500 rushing yards and 4.0 yards per carry, and that will look even worse now.

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