There a lot of fans that are wanting the Pittsburgh Steelers to draft a nose tackle early in the 2014 NFL Draft because they feel like Steve McLendon isn't doing his job against the run. I'm here to tell you, McLendon played well against the run in his first full season as a starter when he was in the game.
While I certainly can't walk you through every running play, I can give you some stats from our charting project that we are wrapping up and the numbers will probably surprise you.
When McLendon was on the field in 2013, opponents ran "up the middle" 47 times for 103 yards. That equates to 2.19 yards per rush and only one of those runs, a 14 yarder, went for more than 10 yards. McLendon was credited with being in on 10 tackles on those runs as well.
While it is a bit unfair to McLendon, we will also look at all runs that went from left guard all the way over to right guard when he was on the field and that includes the aforementioned runs up the middle. In total, there 112 such runs for 458 yards with four going for more than 10 yards. Three of those runs I am sure you all remember as they went for 23, 55 and 60 yards respectively. If you forgot about them, I have included the animated gifs of them below.
If you merely take out those three runs, you are left with 109 rushes for 320 yards and that equates to 2.94 yards per tote. None of those three runs were scored as going "up the middle".
So what about successful versus non-successful runs. If a run on first down goes for 40% or more of the yardage needed to move the chains, it is deemed a successful run. 60% on second down and of course 100% on third and fourth downs. Of the 47 runs up the middle while McLendon was on the field, teams were successful with those runs only 29.8% of the time.
While Pro Football Focus certainly isn't the end all, do all, I thought you would be interested to know that McLendon graded out as the Steelers best run defender in 2013 with a 5.7 grade. They credited him with 19 solo tackles and 9 assist with 15 stops. Last season, Casey Hampton was credited with 16 solo tackles, 5 assist and 11 stops and he played 144 more snaps than McLendon played this season.
So do you still think the Steelers will draft a nose tackle early? I'm willing to bet they don't. McLendon is not the reason why teams ran well against the Steelers this season.
Let me leave you with this little nugget. The Steelers allowed 1,849 yards rushing this season on 433 rushes. However, seven of those runs went for 20 yards or more and they totaled 354 yards. Remove those seven runs and the defense allowed a much more respectable 3.51 yards per rush. That 3.51 would have been good for second best in the league behind only the New York Jets. Seven runs made that big of a difference.