The Pittsburgh Steelers’ run defense is a shell of itself. Forget about comparing it to the mid-2000 teams or what the 70s dynasty did. Two years ago, it was one of the best in football. Now? It’s among the league’s worst, allowing 4.8 yards per carry and giving up 150+ yards in three straight games for the first time in nearly 40 seasons.
For an old-school, stop-the-run linebacker turned defensive coordinator with Keith Butler, it doesn’t make him feel too jolly this December. He made that clear in speaking with reporters Thursday.
“It dadgum pisses me off, too,” he said in audio provided by the team. “But I try not to look at stuff like that. I only look at it if we’re in the top ten, otherwise I say ‘later’ for that crap. No, I’m not happy about it. I’m not happy about it. Anybody that’s a competitor is not happy about being where we are right now against the run and stuff like that. So, yeah, I want to do better, everybody wants to do better. All of us want to do better in that.”
Wanting to do better, recognizing the need to do better, and actually doing better are separate things. It’s only gotten worse as the season’s gone on for the Steelers. Against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, they allowed 198 yards on the ground, the most given up to the Bengals since 2000. Two weeks earlier, the defense allowed 159 to the Chargers and the week before that, gave up 229 yards to the Detroit Lions, virtually all of that coming in the first three quarters of an overtime tie.
The last time the Steelers were ranked next-to-last or worst in yards per carry allowed was 1964, when they finished 14th out of 14 teams, allowing 4.4 yards per carry. In those big metrics, the Steelers’ run defense is as bad as it has been in nearly 55 years. The reasons for that are multiple and obvious. A defensive line missing key players, linebackers not playing well, and a defense that isn’t tackling as consistently as it normally has.
The road ahead doesn’t get easier. On the docket Sunday sit the Baltimore Ravens with one of the league’s better and most committed run games, who are likely to test that leaky Steelers defense early and often. They do catch a break the following two weeks, unlikely to face Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook or Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, but at this point, it doesn’t seem to matter who the opponent is. Pittsburgh’s struggled all the same.