Steelers Defense Losing War Of Attrition Against The Run

By Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense against the run thus far has itself in a somewhat curious predicament. Despite the fact that they have allowed just 3.06 yards on the ground per carry and have not relinquished a single run of ten yards or more, they are still losing the war of attrition.

Although opponents have only gained just a fraction more than three yards on the ground per attempt, which ranks in the top third of the league through the first two weeks of football, they have still pounded their heads against that same wall 76 times. That is more rush attempts against than any other team in the league.

So why, then, have the Steelers been run upon so frequently during the first two games? It is because the run defense falters when it matters most.

In 2010, when the Steelers had a historically great season in rushing defense in terms of rushing yards allowed per game, much of that per game average had to do with the fact that the Steelers had success in short yardage and goal line situations. The fact that the secondary was not as strong also played a factor, but the point still stands: in 2010, the Steelers were better situationally defending the run, and forced teams to give up trying.

This season, the Steelers are allowing 119.5 yards per game on the ground through the first two weeks, which is almost double the amount of yards per game they allowed in 2010. But they are also probably being run against twice as frequently.

The reason for the increase in carries is simple: the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals both found success running the ball, albeit in small, bite-size doses.

Consider this: the Steelers have given up 18 first downs on the ground thus far through the first two games, which is tied for the second-most in the league, behind only the Washington Redskins. Of course, a higher number is to be expected considering teams have run against the Steelers more than any other team.

However, Pittsburgh has also allowed a first down on the ground on nearly a quarter of all rushing attempts: more specifically, 23.7 percent of the time. That statistic, too, ranks in the bottom ten of the league, and is the third-worst among teams yet to give up a play on the ground of 10 yards or greater.

One need simply look at the two rushing touchdowns the Steelers have relinquished thus far this year to see how teams have been able to exploit the run defense in the early portions of the 2013 season. While the 3.06 rushing yards per carry allowed statistic looks nice, it is not yet translating to success on the field in crucial situations, and until that happens, the run defense will continue to be exposed with frequent carries in a war of attrition. Three yards and a cloud of dust, indeed.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Mkeller

    The defense is in a tough spot. Cincy ran 27 more plays on offense than the steelers on Monday. We didn’t convert a 1st down on offense for the 1st 22 minutes of the 2nd half. The defense needs to create opportunity’s for the offense via turnovers but the offense is doing more of a disservice to the D by not sustaining drives. There is work to be done on D for sure but if the O doesn’t start doing their part the D will continue to “lose through attrition”.

  • charles

    You are correct in that stiff pass defense lends to attempting more run. Everybody will do what works best. But, there is another factor. That is, our offense is not putting scoring pressure on the opposition. This lets them stick to their game plan. This fact allows them all the time in the world.
    Haley needs to play Wheaton or do somehing to stretch the field. Bubble screens are not even remotely a good call. Teams are lining up to stop the run or short pass with NO FEAR of being beaten long or a running back breaking the first line of defense. I know that neither Bell nor Wheaton have done anything in the NFL. But we desperately need some speed on the offensive field, even if is just an empty threat…

  • Marcela Garza-Meza

    Add in the equation that Ben is sort of out of target when he pass and we get a 0-2 record.

  • ty simpson

    The steelers offense has been resposible for the defense’s vulnerability. You cannot ask the defense withstand that many downs. The offense has to control the ball. With a real run game doing so is not a problem. With ben’s air show, it is

  • mem359

    The other team will run more when nursing a lead and taking time off the clock. Especially when the Steeler’s offense is often 3-and-out.

  • cencalsteeler

    Simply put, our offense is wearing out our defense!

  • Russ Ruffing

    Just remember what Troy said a few years ago…which was that our defensive scheme is predicated on high pressure and demands a high expenditure of energy from the players. He went on to say that more than any other D, our D has to depend on the offense controlling the time of possession and sustaining long drives for the D to stay fresh and be successful.
    The offense hasn’t done that, and that is the single biggest reason why the D is wilting late and giving up more yards on the ground than we are accustomed do.

  • kakello34

    The Steelers defense seems to own the most misleading stats. On paper they look great.

  • Mike Sweeney

    they are losing every where except the secondary. if offense can sustain drives, they should be ok but that’s a major IF!!!!!!!!!