The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and that Week 8 road game figures to be a tough challenge for the team’s defense, especially when it comes to stopping the run. After all, the Browns’ running game has been great so far this season, and figures to get a boost in the arm on Sunday with the return of starting running back Nick Chubb and starting right tackle Jack Conklin from injuries being expected. The Steelers’ defense hasn’t been great against the run at times this season, and Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to comment on what the team’s defensive line needs to do better moving forward to help out in defending against the run.
“You know, fundamentally, guys have got to be in gaps,” Tomlin said. “Guys have got to tackle well. It’s not anything mystical. We’ve got to do a better job than we’ve done at times and a lot of that has to do with some young guys and gaining growth and development and exposure that’s associated with play. And it’s reasonable to expect that to get better. It has in some instances. [Isaiahh] Loudermilk, [Isaiah] Buggs, like the guys that we’ve been talking about. Henry Mondeaux, they’re getting better, but it can’t happen quick enough, particularly when you go into a stadium like we’re going into a stadium this weekend.”
Moving forward past his comments about the play of the defensive line against the run so far this season, Tomlin was also asked to evaluate the play of the teams inside linebackers against the run so far, and if that group’s performance is closely tied that of the defensive linemen being able to keep defenders off them at the second level.
“Certainly, it goes hand in hand,” Tomlin said. “The quality of their play could be better, but so could the play in front of them. And so together we eat or do not. You know, it’s a collective thing, but much like we talk about rush and coverage, you know, those two things working hand in hand, it is very difficult to evaluate inside linebacker play in a vacuum free from other elements, particularly, the men that play in front of them.”
Tomlin was not done talking about how the play of the defensive line and inside linebackers must be in concert together, especially when it comes to defending the run well.
“So, you know, we’re working to gain some cohesion there,” Tomlin said. “A lot of the lack of cohesion has to do with some of the moving parts that we’ve had in front of them.”
The Steelers have indeed had some moving parts on their defensive line so far this season with one of those being the loss of nose tackle Tyson Alualu for the remainder of the year way back in Week 2. The Steelers have also been without starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt all season as well. Additionally, second-year defensive tackle Carlos Davis has been sidelined since Week 1 with a knee injury. All of this has led to rookie defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk and defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux both needing to play a lot more snaps than many anticipated they would need to ahead of the regular season starting.
The Steelers are coming off their bye week a fresh and healthy team, and that means their defense should be up to the challenge of defending the Browns running game attack on Sunday in Cleveland. If the Browns’ offense is able to run the football successfully early and often against the Steelers’ defensive front, it could make for a long afternoon and even worse, another loss. Based on the level of praise that Tomlin gave the Browns’ running attack during the beginning of his Tuesday press conference, you can bet he’ll stress the importance of stopping the run on Sunday in Cleveland to his defense these next several days.
“You can’t talk about Cleveland without acknowledging their really potent running attack,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “They have quality backs. First and foremost, [Nick] Chubb and [Kareem] Hunt and so forth. But they’ve got quality players up front. They spent a great deal of money acquiring some of that talent in free agency, [Jack] Conklin and others. They’ve got some high drafted talent like [Jedrick] Wills. They’ve got a really good collective group there. They do a good job of getting hats on hats. They’re individually good players. They’re collectively good players. They look like a group that’s got some cohesion in their second year or so together.
“Can’t say enough about Coach [Bill] Callahan, the line coach and run game coordinator. Man, he really does an awesome job with the schematics. He’s got continuity with [Kevin] Stefanski and they’ve got staff continuity that I think turns up in their run game. And that’s why they’re able to do some of the things that you see them do, regardless of who to runner is; be able to put up consistent numbers and so forth. But that’s not to discount the run talent. Can’t say enough about their backs and the depth and the quality of talent that they have at that position.”