Sunday against Seattle, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run defense was looking strong. Until it wasn’t. After allowing just 18 yards on the ground in the first half of their Week 6 victory, Pittsburgh gave up over 100 yards in the third quarter alone. That allowed Seattle to climb back into and tie the game. Speaking to reporters about the collapse, Chris Wormley explained what happened.
“I think we knew that that’s what they were trying to come in and do,” Wormley told reporters via audio provided by the team. “But we weren’t ready those first couple drives.”
Seattle ran 19 plays in the third quarter alone, almost all running the ball, and consistently churning out positive yards. They faced just one third down the entire quarter, a 3rd and 7 run that went for 26 yards. We broke down the multiple issues in a video last week and Wormley repeated some of what we said, including defensive linemen not being gap-sound and stepping the wrong direction.
“We know the plays, we know where to fit. But when the line moves, when things change like that, we have certain plays for this and this. It’s moreso of us being in the right space. And if we’re in the right gaps, I think a lot of those rushing yards we gave up against Seattle wouldn’t be there.”
Pittsburgh’s issues were relatively short-lived. The run defense shaped up in the fourth quarter and especially in overtime. Over that timeframe, Seattle ran the ball seven times for 16 yards at a 42.8% run success rate. Getting steamrolled in the third quarter was a wake-up call to Wormley and the rest of the group.
“And I think that’s what really put us back together. It was 14-14 in that third quarter and we had to kind of tighten up a little bit. We did it in that fourth quarter. Um, but it was almost a little too late for us to do that.”
Of course, it’s not a good plan to batten down the hatches once the opponent is threatening to take the lead. But Pittsburgh did correct their issues on the fly and walked away with the victory. Primarily on the backs of their stars, T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward, who made big plays late in the win. The Steelers’ run defense can ill-afford to have similar lulls this weekend against Cleveland with a healthy Nick Chubb and the league’s top run game.