As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for tomorrow’s game against the Denver Broncos.
X FACTOR: FRONT SEVEN
It’s a common trope from any football coach for any game. Stop the run. But it really rings true this weekend against a run-heavy Broncos’ team. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ haven’t played good enough run defense over their last two losses against the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers. That’s allowed those teams to stay on schedule and minimize the Steelers’ pass rush.
Defenses have to earn the right to rush the passer. Everyone wants pressure. The toll you gotta pay for that is run defense. Win on first down, win on second down, and then pin your ears back on third and long.
Denver isn’t built like Buffalo, Las Vegas, or Green Bay. They need to run the ball effectively. Teddy Bridgewater is a good QB but not a great one. The Broncos’ bread and butter is their ground attack, a vet in Melvin Gordon, a promising rookie in Javonte Williams. Limit that and you can put the offense in uncomfortable situations.
But that means this front seven must step up. Run defense is an 11-man job, I’ve said that many times, but it starts with the guys who get paid to play in the box and defend the run. Pittsburgh’s still reeling from injury and counting on young guys like Isaiahh Loudermilk and Henry Mondeaux to chip in snaps. When starters like Cam Heyward have been on the field, the run defense has played well, allowing just 3.0 YPC and a 44.4% run success rate. It’s when Heyward comes off the field things fall apart. Without #97, the Steelers’ run defense spikes to giving up 8.1 YPC and over a 75% run success rate. An incredible difference. The Steelers must do a better job of being gap-sound this week than they were last week.
Denver comes into this game with the 30th ranked third down offense, converting only 31.4% of the time. Get them in 3rd and 7+ and that number drops to under 28% (which is actually an average number, relative to the rest of the league). But that’s the key to win this one. Stop the run, win on third down. That’ll lead to pressures, incompletions, punts, sacks, and hopefully, turnovers.
Do those things and you keep the score down, control possession of the ball, and give your offense the best chance to put points on the board.