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Steve McLendon Not The Issue In Run Defense


By Matthew Marczi

Despite the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have given up a wealth of yardage on the ground over the course of the past two weeks—nearly 400, in fact—it is my belief that the primary culprit behind this issue is not Steve McLendon and the defensive line.

The inside linebackers this season have struggled significantly to hit the holes, including Lawrence Timmons, whose uncharacteristically poor season in certain areas may be attributable to the players flanking him.

Rookie Vince Williams has had some moments, but he and Timmons do not have the chemistry that Larry Foote had. Additionally, Timmons was used to having one of the best 3-4 outside linebackers against the run. Now he has to deal with a platoon of Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones, the latter of which has had to be reprimanded for his lack of polish on assignments. The secondary also certainly had its issues against the run.

This is in no way, of course, an exoneration of McLendon, or anybody else. They certainly have had their issues, such as allowing the secondary to be in the position of needing to make a tackle seven yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It is worthwhile, though, to highlight some of the positive work that the young starter is putting in against the run as he continues his upward trajectory on the team and in this league.

patriotsmclendon1

The first play that comes to mind, of course, is the goal line stand early in the game on fourth and one. McLendon beat the center badly off the snap and imposed his will. He likely would have single-handedly made the tackle had he not tripped over Logan Mankins’ foot. As it was, he helped trip up Stevan Ridley, who was finished off by Troy Polamalu for a loss.

patriotsmclendon2

The feet of Mankins would prove to be a nemesis preventing McLendon from finishing off individually impressive plays, as the above further attests. Once again, the nose tackle easily rode the center off the snap, and likely would have brought down the back for a solo tackle had he not gotten tangled up, though his efforts contributed to just a one-yard gain on first down.

patriotsmclendon3

When not battling his feet, McLendon had success against the formerly excellent Mankins. On this occasion, he fairly easily shed the offensive guard’s block to make the tackle on another short gain.

Of course, the New England Patriots spent most of the past game rushing the ball around the edges rather than up the middle when facing the base defense of the Steelers. Here is what it is supposed to look like with a disciplined defense and quality play from the nose tackle:

patriotsmclendon4

Even though Brett Keisel ended up being taken down, the play on the back end, as well as the discipline by Timmons and Worilds, prevented the back from finding a crease. Once again, McLendon won his individual battle against the center and helped force Ridley to retreat behind the line of scrimmage as he and Worilds dropped him for a loss.

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About Matthew Marczi

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

    McLendon is very athletic and quick for his size..and you can tell that a lot of the defensive deficiencies are not his fault. As mentioned, the rotation at OLB, the youth at ILB and the poor tackling from the DBs is also the making of a poor run defense

  • Farnsworth

    Oh how I miss Larry Foote.

  • JAMESH

    Ziggy on the ground sighting in the last GIF.

  • DoctorNoah

    How would you grade out Vince Williams at this point?

    And what of the thought of using McClendon, this year or next, as more of a DE ( or even a DT in more of a 4-3 look)? I don’t know the difference is size/skill, but he’s sure lighter than Hampton was

  • steeltown

    Truer words have never been spoken. I like the potential in a player like Vince Williams but he needed more time to develop before being thrown to the wolves. Its clear that he and Timmons aren’t on the same page and Timmons is trying to do too much. Although as previously mentioned the fact that the secondary is whiffing on tackles left and right and missing assignments doesn’t help the rookie in the middle. I suspect next season Vince will be much improved given all the snaps he’s received

  • Impact3697

    Lots of people are calling for Casey Hampton back, but he would not have made any of the above plays that Mcclendon made. New England did most of their damage on outside runs vs our base d and a lot of runs vs our nickel d, in which our NT isn`t on the field.

    Hampton in the past few years, may still have a slightly better anchor than Mcclendon vs inside power runs, but Mcclendon has the advantage in just about every other category

    As this article states, the main culprits are the rolb`s, who are nowhere near the level of Harrison vs the run. And our ILB`s, especially the rookie. It also doesn`t help that Clark and the db`s have missed a ton of tackles, which have turned alot of seven yard gains into big plays

  • Chad H

    Looks like Patriots player going down then makes a move at Hoods knee. Looks like a dirty play to me and not a surprise coming from a NE player.

  • steeltown

    Indeed

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Whose calling for that? He was terrible the past two seasons over all!!

  • MP34

    I’m still not sure if McClendon would be better utilized as a DE.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Clark has to grade out as one of the worst safties this season, problem is Shamarko maybe more suited to SS. And Golden maybe more of a slightly better version of Ryan Mundy ok but not starting caliber. So I expect a high draft pick there next year or a Ryan Clark type signing not Jarius Byrd who will get probably 5 years 35 million.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    They should still bring in some competition.

  • steeltown

    Of course.. and I presume Foote will be backing up ILB next year, I think he’ll be a big part of Vince’s growth

  • steeltown

    I think they’ll draft Safety and CB but something tells me they draft CB earlier than Safety

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Very True I would not be shocked if it was as early as second round

  • alex

    no doubt about that, even from behind

  • steeltown

    Only because we’ll have Polamalu, Thomas, Golden and possibly Will Allen again next year. At CB there’s a lot of uncertainty behind Taylor, Gay and C.Allen

    Early 2nd Rd would be nice and hopefully bring a top tier talent to the position

  • Eric

    I am hoping the CB is Purifoy in Round 2

  • Eric

    I regret but Foote will probably not be back next year. The cap hit to release him is minimal.

  • cencalsteeler

    I say we take Clarks uniform away and give him a referees uniform. That would suit his style of play better, a bystander and a witness.

  • Ben Anderson

    Generally speaking, I find the things you write to have merit. We disagree completely on this issue though. Big Mac has been good on spread plays and against zone blocking. He is terrible vs. man blocking and does not ever set at the point of attack, redirecting the RBs, the way that even last year’s well past his prime Casey Hampton did. Not to mention that he is so little threat that he is rarely ever double teamed, not that he would ever be a threat to split one of those.
    I like Mac. But he is an end, not a NT. The consistency with which backs reach the 2nd level vs the Steelers D is all you need to see to know that the line play has been awful this year.

  • moderatelysane

    One small note. Although I agree that McClendon looks good, he doesn’t seem to be drawing any double teams. In a 3-4, you want the offense to feel that they’re going to be severely punished when they don’t double the NT. McClendon did well against a single team, but I wouldn’t say that NE regretted doubling him. I would still be in favor of a draft pick on a big space eater with McClendon being the future Keisel replacement.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Even they make more tackles.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    It is not just the line it is also a rookie ILB as well as a rookie OLB not setting the edge properly. have to blame the entire front seven not just him.

  • Cash44

    McLendon moves laterally very well. Anyway we can see more runs straight at him? I worry how he anchors himself in those situations, and would like to see it more. I think he has a chance to be a very good contrinuter to this defense in the future, just worry NT in the LeBeau style isnt a good fit.

  • Ben Anderson

    When runs through the A and B gaps are consistently working, I do blame the line, and specifically the NT when it’s the A. Heads up vs. man blocking he isn’t anchoring. He works angles well, but he isn’t a true NT.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    That he is not. He probably will slide to Keisel’s spot if they are able to get a NT in the draft who proves he is capable.

  • cencalsteeler

    Agree. I noticed the Pats running a lot of traps with success toward the end of the game. All were directed at the A gaps. LeGarrett’s gains were mostly up the middle. They seem to not stay home and are easily misdirected (Pryors 93 yarder sound familiar?). Look at some of the gifs posted on this site, and notice how they overcommit especially when the offense runs the ZBS.

  • patrick Mayfield

    You would save $1.17M off the cap releasing him before June 1, another $333k after.

    I find it hard to see how he wouldn’t be on the team at least until some point in camp. You’d almost need to have Sly and Vince Williams prove themselves this season. Hard to see an opportunity for that without some injury.

  • steeltown

    True, but unless they draft someone or they think Terence Garvin or Kion Wilson provide good depth they may decide to keep Foote for another year.

    Personally im pulling Terence Garvin, I think he brings something to the table, he’s a hybrid LB type, playing weak-side LB, Safety and OLB in college and had a lot of tackles and a lot of pass defenses

  • lefnor

    That’s right, McLendon moves laterally very well. But he can’t keep the line of scrimmage against inside runs when double teamed. He would be a perfect DE in LeBeau’s system but he is not a nose tackle.

    Louis Nix III would be the perfect NT.

  • Alan Felicia

    IMHO, McLendon is an average NT at best compared to the 2 NTs (Casey Hampton & Joel Steed) that anchored Pittsburgh Defense that were consistently top 3 in rushing yards allowed.

  • Eric

    The other factor at ILB is Spence. The FO has given admirable and gentlemanly respect carrying him for 2 years. If he can play next year or not, probably will impact Larry’s status.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Williams has really gone up and down, not just between games, but within games. I like his ability to read plays, but sometimes he doesn’t find the right hole or take the right angle or get his feet underneath him trying to make the tackle. Grading on a curve considering the expectations for him this season, I’d probably give him a C+ or something like that.

    McLendon at DE is certainly always a possibility, especially considering they already have him under contract, but obviously that depends on the front office’s plans. For example, do they think Fangupo can develop into a starting nose? Or would they draft one in the first round if available?

  • AndyR34

    Neither of them were more than average their first year as starters…a little unfair to compare their best years vs. Mac’s first year as a starter. In the end you may be correct, but it is premature to judge Mac so early and w/o good performances around him.

  • steeltown

    I can agree with that based on the small sample size that we have, I think Mac is a good player to have on the DL but maybe he’s not the one that should man the middle

  • Alan Felicia

    Let’s be honest, McLendon is just keeping the seat warm until the team finds a true anchor. Think of McLendon as von Oelhoffen – a stop gap.

  • Alan Felicia

    You know, Hood was DT coming out of Missouri. If they ever switch to 4-3, they have the personel to do it: Heyward, Hood, McLendon, and Woodley (was DE at Michigan).

  • steeltown

    True

  • John

    AGREED ON MCCLENDON. He seems to fit as an end in the current system. The Steeler defense needs a strong NT that cannot be moved out despite a double team and that ain’t him. BJ Raji is a free agent I believe at end of this year.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Yup McLendon is definitely a DE, or Tackle. He and Heyward move very well for big men, and will provide them with a good future defense. Now a few more pieces of the puzzle to fill in, like NT. Try Fangupo now and see if it works out.

    From there you can gauge if the LB’s are going to work out. Give a few of them a shot. Then try some different guys on the back end. Hell, there’s still 8 games to find out what the hell they have.

    You never know, they may find that 6 or 7 new defenders are not required. Perhaps just a few.

  • Alan Felicia

    Uncertainty behind Gay and Taylor? I think its time to replace Taylor and Gay. Roby from Ohio State or Roberson from Florida comes to mind, 2nd Round.

  • steeltown

    I meant immediate future, like 2014.. regardless of who we draft and how many, we’ll still need Taylor and WillieG in 2014 while the rookies get acclimated.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Sly has not done anything of note on defense so far in three years.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    You also have to look at what was around them as well. Aaron Smith was here for a lot of those Hampton years.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    No they do not.

    Heyward best suited for a 3-4, Woodley does not have the quickness for a 4-3 DE relies mostly on power, Jarvis Jones is a 3-4 OLB not a 4-3 DE and definitely not a 4-3 Sam. Only linebacker who could play both is Timmons. They could do a 4-3 look but could not play a consistent 4-3 front.

  • Eric

    I agree that McClendon is good and we need a monster NT so McClendon can move to DE. Nix will be the first NT drafted in round 1 for certain. If the draft were tomorrow and the Steelers were drafting say 6th – 10th, do you take Nix or the best Left OT? Given everything I know right now, I regrettably would take the tackle

  • Bell Cow

    There actually aren’t as many drastic changes switching defenses as you might think. Teams do it all the time ( Dallas from 34 to 43, New Orleans from 43 to 34, Philadelphia from 43 to 34) are all team who changed this year.

    You’re probably to young to remember, but everyone had these same conservations back in the 80s when they decided to switch from the 43 to the 34. At that time, the team was going through a transition like they are now. My gut feeling is that Tomlin will want to implement the defense he’s most familiar with.

  • Bell Cow

    We can’t depend on Spence coming back. Like Keith Butler said, it would be a miracle if he plays again.

  • Bell Cow

    Good assessment. I think going into next season, the front office may strongly consider spending a high pick on a nose tackle and move McClendon to DE. I’d feel much more comfortable with Heyward & McClendon at DE, plus a rookie NT going as our starting defensive line next season. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t McClendon originally a DE and they bulked him up to a NT?

  • Alan Felicia

    Never said Jones as a SAM or a DE. He’s perfectly fine as the Outside BUCK. Obviously Timmons as the MACK and if you think Woodley is better suited as the other OLB, keep him there, can move Worilds at DE (he was DE coming out of Virginia Tech).

  • lefnor

    Unfortunately, me too. This is the real problem with the wasted Adams (or Gilbert) draft picks. You have to take another shot at the OT position instead of another suffocating need.
    A good NT is the foundation of our runD. Drafting Nix would be perfect timing.
    Shame on you, Colbert!

  • Bell Cow

    I agree that there is definitely a possibility of transitioning to the 4-3 next year, especially if LeBeau retires. Fans had these same reservations in the early 80’s when they transitioned from a 43 to the 34. Whether fans want to admit to it or not, the team is in a very similar situation as they were during that time period. Either way, it’s going to take time to rebuild which ever base defense they choose.

    I’m starting to believe they’ll move towards the 43. Especially since Tomlin was a disciple of Tony Dungy and Keith Butler ( defensive coach in waiting) is also familiar with the 4-3. We used to have to abundance of linebackers which is critical to play the 34 and we no longer do. In addition, they’ve spent high picks on the defensive line so it would be a wasted investment to cut ties with those guys.

    Hood would play DT next to McClendon. Heyward would line up at defensive end and Woodley on the other end. Timmons was highly regarded coming out of Florida State as a 4-3 weak side linebacker and Jarvis Jones is young and atheistic enough to be molded into a SLB (many people forget that Jones played ILB at USC and also DE and OLB at Georgia). Also, Jarvis Jones was compared to Von Miller who now plays SLB for the Broncos. That would leave the middle linebacker position open which they’d likely have to draft. We need to get younger either way in the defensive backfield, so why not draft CBs designed to play man coverage?

    So I agree with you Alan that it is not as far fetched as so fans on this site many think.

  • Alan Felicia

    Hampton was just a special kind of player who was considered one of the best NT in the game. Joel Steed was surrounded by mediocare linemen like Ray Seals and Brenston Buckner.
    Maybe its their size or gerth, both Steed and Hampton have same frame – 6′ 1, 6′ 2 over 320 Ibs while McLendon is 6’4, 280 soaking wet.

  • Madi

    Seriously? The dude dove on the back of his legs from behind. What should he have done about that, the Eric Dickerson high step?

  • Bell Cow

    McClendon is listed at 320, but I get your point.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I think the loss of Foote for the year put us back some although Foote wasnt going to set any records this year by any stretch

  • JAMESH

    The Steelers website had McLendon listed at 280lbs since he came out of school until just recently updating it to 320lbs. It has been several years since he was anywhere near 280lbs.

  • JAMESH

    Never wrote that it was his fault, simply stated that he was seen on the ground again. Seems to happen to him a lot.

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