The Pittsburgh Steelers may have posted a winning record and reached the playoffs last year, but the 2021 season still left enough of a bitter taste in their mouths that they enter this year looking to set the record straight.
Among the foremost is re-establishing themselves as a run-stopping defense. That starts with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but it’s just the beginning, as reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt explained to reporters yesterday courtesy of the team’s website.
“We have to establish that we can stop the run, not only against the Bengals, but for the whole season, and that’s what sets the tone early”, he said. “I feel very confident with that. We know what we can do when we pin our ears back in this defense”.
You might recall that the Steelers had their issues here and there in effectively stopping opposing team’s running games, I say with not a hint of under-exaggeration. They finished dead last in the NFL both in rushing yards allowed and in rushing yards per attempt allowed.
Worse still, they allowed at least 100 rushing yards in all but four games, and of those four games in which they held opponents to under 100 yards, they still allowed at least 93. The 13 games in which they allowed teams to rush for over 100 yards against them also featured four 200-yard rushing games.
The primary finger of blame for their defensive woes against the run last season tends to be pointed at the injuries along the defensive line, with Stephon Tuitt missing the entire season unexpectedly without time to adequately replace him, and with Tyson Alualu injured in week two with a fractured ankle.
While that was certainly a major part of the problem—and they now have Alualu back, with Larry Ogunjobi in Tuitt’s place, with better depth behind them—that is not the only thing they are counting on. Indeed, it’s not just about personnel.
“We definitely haven’t shown our full hand at stopping the run and stuff”, Watt said. “I’m very comfortable with where we are right now in the game plan and where we’re at having the extra week to prepare for these guys. I’m just looking forward to ‘righting the wrong’ as far as the Steelers and stopping the run”.
“Righting the wrong” is pretty strong language when referring to playing against the run better, but Watt’s choice of phrase speaks to just how important an issue it is to this unit, and to this team, and hopefully reflects the amount of time and attention they have put in to changing the narrative of the defense in 2022. A palate cleanser after a dismal season.