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2022 Offseason Questions: Do Alualu, Ogunjobi ‘Fix’ The Run Defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics 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: Larry Ogunjobi and a healthy Tyson Alualu means the Steelers’ run defense is fixed.

Prior to the 2021 season, the Steelers’ run defense was no worse than solid, if not genuinely good, a legitimate asset. More often than not, at least. Things fell apart last year, however, fairly quickly (they did average under 90 yards on the ground allowed per game through the first three weeks, so it wasn’t immediate).

Stephon Tuitt, of course, never played. Tyson Alualu broke his ankle early in the second game of the season. The worst period was during the middle of the year. They allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in a span of just six weeks. They ranked dead last in rushing yards allowed and yards per carry.

So Alualu is back. Tuitt may have retired, but the Steelers signed Larry Ogunjobi to take his place. Does that fix the run defense? Alualu was a genuinely good run-defending defensive tackle in 2020. Ogunjobi has, in the past, played against the run well, though it’s seemingly been something that’s become more of an issue—largely tied to missed tackles—as his career has gone on.

And what does it mean for the run defense to be ‘fixed’, exactly? Does it have to be a clearly positive asset? Does it just have to not be the reason they lose? Do they have to finish at least in the middle of the pack in total run defense numbers?

A lot of the personnel in the front seven this year will be different from last year. Basically, is that enough to make it so we don’t have to dread when a running back is handed the ball?

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