The Pittsburgh Steelers’ primary objective on defense coming into today’s game against the Carolina Panthers was to contain their run game, which had emerged as among the best in the league. They put up 185 yards or more in three of the previous four games coming into the day, while the Steelers had allowed over 300 yards on the ground in their previous six quarters.
Well, the Steelers rushed for over 150 yards themselves while holding the Panthers to all of 21 yards on the ground. Players after the game on both sides of the ball said that was the emphasis during the week, particularly winning in the trenches.
“That was an emphasis because we knew what type of running game they had”, Alex Highsmith said after the game via the team’s website. “They have a really good couple backs, so we knew that to win the game we would have to do that, and the past couple weeks wasn’t ourselves”.
He said that it all started in practice, saying it was one of their best weeks of practice all season. “I think we really set the [tone of] the game from the first drive, stopping the run. That’s why we were successful, because we were able to stop the run”.
While it helped that the Steelers were able to get the scoring started early—they got into the end zone on each of their first two drives—that doesn’t fully account for why the Panthers could not move the ball on the ground. After all, they still attempted 16 rushes and only got 21 yards out of them.
Larry Ogunjobi brought running back D’Onte Foreman down in the backfield for a loss of one on the first play of the game, followed by Chuba Hubbard held to three yards on second down. Sam Darnold had to put the ball in the air on 3rd and 8, the defense getting a quick three and out.
The scoring differential probably limited what Carolina wanted to do with their eight-lineman ‘Arby’s package, but the Steelers had counters for that as well. One of the approaches they took was to use DeMarvin Leal, the rookie, as an extra defensive lineman.
“I think we did a good job with DeMarvin Leal coming in”, Highsmith said, “stepping up, bringing another big body on the field like him just helped us be more stout in the run game when they brought their extra bodies in. We just had a good mindset coming into the game”.
Up next is yet another good rushing team in the Las Vegas Raiders however, who rank 10th in rushing yardage despite having only the 22nd-most attempts. They are also third in rushing average, putting up over five yards per carry.
In other words, the job’s not done. The run defense is going to continue to be tested. And they still have to play the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens after that.