2021 South Side Questions: How Will Defense Fare Against Browns’ Run Game?

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 will the Steelers fare in stopping the Browns’ rushing attack?

While we often talk about the Baltimore Ravens in terms of focusing in on limiting their ability to run the ball, the Browns may be even more dependent on their ground game this season. And they showed in their last game that they can run the ball even without their top backs.

D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 144 yards in his first career start while Kareem Hunt is on the Reserve/Injured List and Nick Chubb was unavailable. Chubb will be back for this one, however, playing behind a quality offensive line that is probably as healthy as it’s been this year.

On the flip side, the Steelers’ defensive line is in serious lack of depth without Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Carlos Davis, two starters and a top backup, and they’ve had to do without all three of them for most of the year. How much has that worn them down? They are coming off of a bye week, fortunately.

Still, we saw how the Seattle Seahawks were able to run the ball against this line in the second half two weeks ago, even without their starting quarterback and their top running backs. Have they been able to make adjustments to address the failings that led to that showing?

If they can’t stop the Browns’ run game, then it doesn’t even matter who is at quarterback for them. They can beat you on the ground and limit your possessions while they do it, something that even offensive coordinator Matt Canada acknowledged this week.

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