The topic of conversation surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers on the defensive side of the football this offseason and throughout the preseason pertained to how they would perform against the run after a dreadful 2021 season. The Steelers got gashed for the most yardage every allowed on the ground in team history while finishing dead last in the league in total yards allowed and yards per carry. While several notable injuries contributed to a drop off in team run defense, there were plenty of examples throughout the year where the unit failed to execute the defense as called, allowing opposing running backs to run wild into the secondary.
When asked about the state of the run defense as it stands today compared to last season, DC Teryl Austin mentioned that he has seen improvement in terms of execution of technique as well as bringing a more physical style of play to the table.
“We’ve been a little more stout,” Austin said to the media on video from Pittsburgh Tribune’s Chris Adamski’s Twitter page. “There haven’t been a bunch of long, long gains. We’ve given up some that we don’t like to, but I think we’re a little more solid. We’re playing blocks better. We’re crack replacing better. So, all those things have to show up.”
The message has been loud and clear in the Steelers’ facility ever since the team returned for the start of OTAs and throughout the summer into training camp. Whether it has been Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, or another veteran defender that has spoken to the media the last several months, Austin has made it very clear that this team needs to be able to stop the run. To do this, instead of focusing on the problem as a whole, Austin has elected to zoom in to the technical errors that plagued the defense last season, getting back to the fundamentals and basics to play sound run defense like stacking and shedding blocks, replacing crack blocks, and rallying to the football like Austin mentioned above.
T.J. Watt said it was very clear to the defense that last season’s performance in run defense wasn’t close to good enough and that Austin has made it an emphasis every single day at practice which the players have since adopted. Surrendering numerous 100+ yard rushers in 2021 isn’t what a Pittsburgh Steelers defense is known for and based on the focus that has been put on improving that area by execution as well as the addition of multiple players to the front seven, the hope is that Pittsburgh can return back to the run defense they boasted previously compared to the unit they fielded in 2021.