So You Think Steve McLendon Was Bad Against The Run In 2013?

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.

  • steeltown

    McLendon had himself a solid year

    One thing that is evident, there were missed assignments by the rookies on most of the big chunk plays AND there were missed tackles by others, namely the secondary.

  • J. Hernandez

    agreed steeltown…the secondary and some missed tackles by linebackers was the problem

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I actually like the duos of McLendon and Woods. However I wouldn’t count out on Nix because Steelers FO have proven to be bonehead when it come to retaining younger players over aging veterans. Specifically, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood. If we chosen to replace Hood with Keisel (I sure hope not but its very possible) then we still need to find Hood’s replacement…

    That being said, last off-season was somewhat disappointing because we didn’t take care of business for other positions and veterans. Took Jarvis Jones in 1st when he’s “learning” how to pass-rush. Took Ziggy Hood when he was “a 4-3 UT”. Took some underdeveloped prospects because they had potentials in general; NOT the potentials within the scheme. I loved Hood’s pick but hated Jones’ pick, which is ironic because I loved Jarvis Jones as a player, didn’t like Hood but its the picks and schemes I’m looking at.

  • StarSpangledSteeler


    What a great article. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable fan, but these stats literally shocked me. I’ve watched every single game this year and I thought for sure our rushing yards allowed up the middle would’ve been much higher. Interesting.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    The tales of tape. In older days, Casey Hampton would collapse the line of scrimmage which force the RB to change direction of lane, McLendon is a guy who let RB hit hole and tackle him. Those movements would trick anyone’s eyes because of what’s apparent and what’s not. For example many think Heyward is very good but not at the level of Aaron Smith- what?!? Wrong. Heyward’s presence is a force in passing pressures, debateable Heyward is a better overall DE than Aaron Smith was. Also factor in coaching staffs’ decisions for the rotation, they aren’t always right or making good decisions which can be deceiving toward the players.

    Jones over Worilds? Keisel over Hood? Ryan Clark over Thomas? Just to name few. Not bashing you or anything, just felt the necessary of making a remark, cheers!

  • Rick M

    I guess the article left me with more questions than answers. The big one was did opposing teams routinely double-team McLendon like they did Hampton? If not, then comparing his run stats and effectiveness to Hampton respectfully seems like apples and oranges to me.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the good Nose Tackles routinely draw two blockers to control them? Sorry for the question, but I’m trying to understand the effectiveness of McLendon versus Hampton in clogging up the middle and allowing other Steelers to make tackles in the run game.

  • CW

    Completely agree that McLendon hasn’t been the issue for the most part on the defensive line. He’s mostly been a positive as a starter until the late season ankle injury wore him down a bit. His year is comparable to several of the good but not Pro Bowl years Casey Hampton had which is great, but not perfect.

    However if Louis Nix, with his knee injury which could sideline him through most of the Draft Combine functions, falls to the Steelers in the second round or better yet falls even further into the late third round when the Steelers are likely to have an extra draft pick with the loss of Wallace, I’d be all for taking him to develop as a future starting nose tackle.

  • srdan

    Steve had a good year.

    I would have a hard time justifying drafting an NT high. Even stud 3-4 DT are 2 down players in today’s NFL. Woods and McClendon have shown promise. The unit as a whole is getting better. Cam is our best defensive player, and is starting to make others around him better.

  • Rick M

    I get his drinking incident issue, but can someone explain to me why Ta’amu was able to start for one of the best defences in the league (Arizona) and why he didn’t even get one regular season snap here at Nose Tackle? I understand the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defence. I just don’t get why our supposed future Nose Tackle was released so easily given his play in Arizona.

    The team has seemingly wasted draft choices on Ta’amu (released), Terry Hawthorne (released) and Landry Jones. Drafting any college player who already has knee injury problems (i.e. Nix) makes me nervous – even if he’s taken in the 3rd round. Then again, he may prove to be a steal long-term.

  • James Kling

    Is it just me, or does this seem like a weak class of 3-4 NTs anyway? Nix is often mentioned, and sometimes Hageman (but I wonder about his height/leverage). There are usually very few 3-4 NTs worth the look nay given year, but I have some questions about Nix’s value in R1 and anyone else in the draft except for maybe a few very late round projects.

  • steeltown

    Im not sure why they kept Fangupo over Ta’amu.. maybe he didn’t follow some stipulation after the incidents, but saying that Landry Jones was a wasted pick is a stretch. He was a phenom college player and we needed to get younger at the position. Its far too early to assume anything regarding his ability in the pro game.

  • srdan

    I agree on teh Ta’amu issue with you. But over the years I have learned that we only get to see these guys perform 16-20 times a year. The coaches are on teh bus, in meetings, film and so on getting a feel for each and every guy. He had an issue, and was given a pass, I would agree wtih steeltown that something must have happened or a culmination of events.

  • SumnerYoung

    If the Steelers hadn’t seen any upside in Ta’amu, they would’ve released him for good right after the South Side drunk driving incident. They did release him but signed him back soon thereafter, so they were aware he had some talent. Then came his second chance. They brought him to camp this year and let him compete in camp and in preseason games with McClendon, Woods, and Fangupo. Apparently, they must’ve thought that those three were better or equal players, and they don’t have the DUI baggage that Ta’amu has. Remember, he was busted for a DUI in college too. IMO, these all added up to make him a Steeler 2013 training camp casualty. Arizona snatched him up quickly.

  • SumnerYoung

    I am not a fan of Louis Nix. For a man of great size and alleged athleticism, he does not dominate at the college level. I think he can be lazy and take plays off. He has a very bad knee already. Also, when was the last time a Notre Dame defensive player made an impact at the NFL level? I do like that he’s from Florida because they play high level football from youth through high school, but I just don’t see a good pro player when it comes to Nix.

    I like the Steelers draft strategy from last year: pick collegiate players who have a lot of production. Here’s a thought, a defensive lineman with a ton of college production = Aaron Donald. Blah, blah, blah, doesn’t fit the scheme, blah, blah, blah. It’s the job of the GM and his scouts to draft the best available players. It’s the job of the coaches to put those players in position to make plays. If you want a d-lineman, Aaron Donald is a helluva player. He is way more versatile than Nix, and versatility is what you need in the modern NFL. A versatile defensive player will stay on the field in all packages. Want proof? See Cam Heyward, a young player who is good against the run and good against the pass. Next season, he has a chance to be great.

    We know the NFL is a passing league now, so the name of the game offensively is to have an elite QB with an arsenal of weapons, and on the flip side, to have a defense that can make the opposing QB very uncomfortable. Aaron Donald pash-rushing alongside Cam Heyward seems scary to me. The coaches would have to find a way to make it work, and that would mean using hybrid fronts. That shouldn’t be too hard considering Lebeau is the master of the 3-4, and Tomlin has stupendous knowledge of the 4-3. Again, versatility, only this time, regarding scheme.

  • Hopper

    At first I thought Nix would have been a great pick, and he ought to still be on the board when the Steelers pick (coming off the knee), but the more I think about the way McClendon & Woods played this year, and the promise of our LBs, then I think the Steelers should go for a CB…Justin Gilbert or maybe Dennard out of Michigan St.

    Another thought is that the Steelers kind of pride themselves on taking CB & WR in later rounds, while they never hesitate to draft a LB early. They always need LBs, and with a bunch of guys on the bubble like Sylvester & Wilson, and Larry Foote only 1-2 years away from retirement, will they pass on Mosley if he’s available at #15? I’d have to say no, they’d take him in a heartbeat, saving CB & WR for later.

  • Bill Molinaro

    This is a great article but fails to address some fundamental truths. Stopping the
    run starts with solid nose tackle and linebacker play. The Steelers
    had rookies playing at one linebacker spot. If we had two first line LBs we can
    expect better run stoppage. However, the comparison to big snack uses stats
    when he was at the end of a great career not when he was in his prime. On to
    fundamentals: Outstanding tackles consistently beat the double team. McClendon sometimes gets pushed around by the center alone. What is completely left out
    of this article is the nose tackle’s role in the passing game at that is push
    up the middle. To me the most important element of a pass rush is for the nose
    tackle to take on the double team and still get push up the middle.. Too often
    QBs step up on the Steelers and the outside rush is routed harmlessly
    behind him. In today’s NFL the run is used to set up the pass and use up
    time. It is a passing league and the NT has a critical role in that.
    McClendon seems physically better suited to DE than NT and if a good NT is
    available in the draft, we should take him. As far as the ‘nugget’, long runs are part of the rushing stats of all teams and they all would have better stats if they removed the long runs.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I would argue that our bad rushing items would be summed up by 2 positions. One position had 2 rookies filling that role, the other had a vet who has gotten too slow to play it anymore filling it.

    I would be okay with Williams and Garvin as a combo, but it is time for Ryan Clark to go bye bye. It would also not surprise me if this is the year that we dip into free agency and grab an under the radar type player (much like Clark was) in order to fill a role we need filled. To me it is not our front 3 which need upgraded, it is the back 8…OLB, ILB, S, and CB.

  • steeltoed logic

    Show us film of how effective he was at controlling the line of scrimmage and letting linebackers come up to make a play. That’s what Casey was great at. I’d like to see both Timmons and Williams numbers if Casey was still around.

  • cencalsteeler

    The front is not our problem as some may think. The missed tackles at the second level is an area of concern. I give a pass to Williams getting caught in the wash, for he is a rook. But, the missed tackles by Ike and Clark this year are horrific. They simply do not wrap up.

  • SteelersDepot

    There is no talk about pass rush, because the article is focused on play against the run. Did you miss that part? As far as the ‘nugget’, no shit Sherlock. Did you come up with that all on your own. Go ahead and down vote away.

    Bill, do you have STATS to back up how often McLendon gets “pushed around by the center alone” or do you have the time of the plays notated? I’ll hang up and listen.

  • Rick M

    One of the things i’ve noticed in the last couple of mediocre years is that we play up ‘acceptable’ performance as ‘good’ or ‘really good’. We never had to do that during the glory years; our players were just darn good and they proved it on the field.

    In the case of McLendon, the Steelers assigned him a 6th round tender (not impressive). A month or two later, he was being talked about as the long-term replacement for Hampton. The two just don’t fit together – you don’t assign a 6th round tender to the guy you legitimately think can effectively replace Casey Hampton.

    Now, some are suggesting that McLendon is a ‘good’ Nose Tackle. But I think deep down most of us know that he’s acceptable at best and he may not even be strong enough for that particular position. It’s probably all part of a down cycle for a team – you start to inflate personal performance, just so you’ll have a better feeling as a fan about the team’s future. Just my opinion, and I respect everyone’s thoughts on McLendon, pro or con.

  • Steve

    If you look at the 1st GIF both Steve and Ziggy got blown out by a single block. Clark missed the tackle else it would have been a 5 yard carry. Don’t get me wrong, Steve did have a good year but guessing and not reading will hurt you every time.

  • DrakePirate

    Great Post by Dave … Mclendon has played above the line and I don’t get all the clamouring for a NT early in the draft … much more important needs to address !

  • DrakePirate

    I am an avid Sooner fan and i can assure everyone that Landry has NO future as a starter in this league, but I am hopeful that he can become a decent backup … but that is where his potential stops !

  • Steve

    Why can’t a 6th rounder turn out Great? Do you think all HOF players were 1st rounders?

  • SteelersDepot

    First gif? McLendon’s job is to hit that A gap.

  • Steve

    And Steve was blown out 5 yards to the left.

  • SteelersDepot

    You are so full of shit. That’s a run blitz. McLendon is right where he belongs on the play. Are you blind?

  • Rick M

    Come on. McLendon was an undrafted free agent in 2009. He’ll be entering his 6th year in 2014. You seriously think he can turn out to be a great Nose Tackle? Either the Steelers under-evaluated him in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, or your use of the word “great” is sheer hyperbole.

    i give McLendon an “A” for effort and guts. But he’ll never be a “great” Nose Tackle.

  • steeltown

    I think he was drafted to be a backup, they signed Gradkowski to be #2 until Landry gets his feet wet

  • steeltown

    One major job of a 3-4 NT is to take on the double team, freeing up the LBs to make plays.. he doesn’t necessarily have to “beat the double team” in most instances he just has to command them

  • Alan Felicia

    The last defensive player drafted from Notre Dame that has made an impact to their teams are Harrison Smith/Safety for Minn (1st round, 2012) and Justin Tuck/DE Giants (3rd Rd, 2005)

  • patrick Mayfield

    If you’re going to throw out all the long runs that’s fine but you can’t then compare that stat vs the rest of the league unless you’re doing them the same courtesy.

  • DrakePirate

    and Im fine with that … hopefully he does develop into a solid backup … his problem at OU was he was very inconsistent

  • Bill Molinaro

    To beat the double team is to keep two people off the LBs.

  • Cols714

    It’s really simple. Vince Williams was horrible, especially at the beginning of the year. A better ILB next to Timmons and we probably beat the Vikings, Raiders, and maybe the Bears.

    Williams is young and can get better though.

  • Bill Molinaro

    To be an effective nose tackle you also have to play the pass and to eliminate the long runs from the stats is tantamount to saying the defensive line is not culpable is those situations and that’s false. If they allow guards to get to the second level and knock people down, the long run is also on them.

  • Bill Molinaro

    It looks like the A gap hit him!

  • Bill Molinaro

    Nice language! That’s where he’s suppossed to be and what he’s supposed to do?? If he hit the other gap and got blown up like that wouldn he still be “where he’s supposed to be”?

  • Dan

    My sentiments exactly. McLendon played well. And so did most of our Offensive Linemen after a little consistency in the lineup. Heck Emanual Sanders had many games were he played pretty good. We had a lot of players accross the board that played above average. But who dominated? With the 15th overall pick, if we pick well, we should be able to plug in a dominate player. If that happens to be a NT tackle like Nix, then so be it. Generally teams full of players that played “well” aren’t holding up the Lombardi in Febuary. It is generally teams that have at least a few dominate players.

  • johnhoien

    Love #90 .. Thought he played an amazing year.. Still remember him dumping Vick on his head preseason a couple years ago.. Great article.. Way to set people straight.

  • J-DUB

    I think McLendon did a solid job at NT, but I wouldn’t mind them drafting Louis Nix and moving McLendon over to DE. I feel that McLendon could do at least as good as Ziggy Hood if not better.

  • SumnerYoung

    I’m not sure I can give you Harrison Smith. Though he is still a young player, it seems to me he is an average starting safety on a bad defense. Justin Tuck definitely made an impact as an NFL defensive lineman, but he was developed by a previous Notre Dame coaching staff. And so for this discussion, I discount Tuck based on that. Even if Tuck is included, it’s still not a good track record for impactful Notre Dame defenders over the last decade.

  • SumnerYoung

    Bill Polian had very high grades for Landry Jones last year, and Polian definitely knows how to assess QB’s from a front office standpoint. I remember him saying what he loved most about Landry was that he’s a winner.

    I’ve also said this before in an older article, and trust me I don’t wish this to become true, but Landry Jones could start games at QB for the Steelers next season. It’s possible he beats Gradkowski out in training camp for the backup job, and it’s possible Big Ben gets hurt during the season. Didn’t Ben just complete only his second full season in which he started all 16 games? I don’t want to see Ben injured ever again, but I sure hope Landry is a better pro prospect than what you’re saying.

  • Sweetness

    McClendon needs to stuff the line so LB’s can make the play. When he isnt getting double teamed and causing havoc, he isnt helping our D. Casey Hampton knew how to wreak havoc so the ILB’s could make the play against the run just like this D is designed. I dont care if McClendon allowed 5 yards on 100 carries “up the middle” if he isnt doing his job for the ILB’s.

  • John Hinton

    It’s posts like this that keep us on your site every single day.

  • DrakePirate

    Sorry no Disrespect to Bill Polian … But I know QB’s and Landry Jones just does not have the “It” factor … I dont know what Bill Polian was talking about when he said he was a “Winner” .. the “Winning” was more attributable to Oklahoma than him … actually the bigger the game the more he choked … thats what i actually didn’t like about him ! But that said I’m fine with him being the back up if that was the stated goal ! which i think with work he can be a decent back up QB which isn’t shabby lets not knock it !

  • Douglas Andrews

    McClendon did his job this year and with Al Woods I think were okay at NT. In those Gif’s I found it interesting that R. Clark missed tackles on all 3 of those

  • Douglas Andrews

    Mostly R. Clark to be honest. Oh what a difference a year makes last year he made those tackles.

  • Douglas Andrews

    If I recall correctly Coach Mitchell said the same thing after they drafted Ta’amu that the NT’s major job is to tie up two blockers and let someone else on the defense make the play.

  • SumnerYoung

    Dan, please go have a look at the 1st round of the 2013 NFL draft. Now that the regular season is over, please tell me out of those 32 picks, who has become a dominant player in their first year. There are none. Rookies don’t come into the NFL and dominate, and therefore, I vehemently disagree with your statement regarding the 15th overall pick in 2014.

  • Richard Edlin

    Coming into the season, the 6th round was fair even if they thought HOF down the line … the player is worth what someone else will bid & no one was going to give up more than a 6th for him.

  • Jazz

    I still do not think McClendon is a pure NT, however, I do agree the Steelers need to address more pressing issues next May such as CB/WR/Safety in that order. If they don’t resign Cotchery and Sanders walk as he probably will, then WR/CB/Safety.

  • phisqb

    I have to agree with a couple other people in that I want to know how many times McClendon was double teamed compared to Hampton. I only saw once in the 2 gifs and the one where he was, he was blown 5 yards off the ball. You can’t tell me the whole reason for our terrible run D was the absence of Larry Foote.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’d be okay with either order of draft picks you stated but I think Cotchery will be back. McClendon is probably gonna be a little like R Foster just workman like might not get his name called a lot but he just get’s the job done. It’s really not fair for us to measure NT’s with Casey Big Snack because that’s asking a lot of any NT. I like McClendon I just think that if we had better players at some other positions we wouldn’t focus on the line so much.

  • DrakePirate

    Actually, Reid played pretty damn well … but i get ur point .

  • hp b

    McClendon is a really good player who can soon be another great Steeler NT.
    For the last 25 years Steelers have had pro bowl caliber player at NT.
    Al Woods is also there and then the two youngsters as well. NT?!! No way.

  • Dan

    Yes it is rare that any player is dominant in their rookie year, but we should be able to pick a dominant player (whether they become dominant in year 2, 3 or 4 isn’t the point) at the 15th slot to replace a player who already has some years of NFL experience and is only showing to be serviceable. I used NIX at NT as an example; however, I actually like McLendon and Woods so would probably put a higher priority on some other positions depending how draft day unfolds.

  • SumnerYoung

    I agree with what your saying now. But when you said earlier that the Steelers should be able to “plug” in a dominant player with the 15th pick, I don’t agree with that. Semantics, I guess, as plug means play right away to me. On another note, Al Woods is an unrestricted free agent, so if the Steelers want him they’ll have to give him a new contract. He may not be a Steeler next season.

  • SumnerYoung

    Yep … there’s two or three first round guys who played pretty damn well as rookies, and actually perhaps more second round guys who were quite good as rookies, maybe even more impactful than the first rounders. Kiko Alonso, Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard and Lev Bell jump out at me from the second round. It’s been said that RB is the easiest position to make the college to pro transition in football. There’s a bit of proof in that from last year’s draft right there.


    Brett came back in the CLE game to say good bye…no way can the Steelers retain him anywhere near the $4.9 cap hit he carried…Hood is a serviceable depth guy that won’t cost a ton…but looking back at that draft, no DL players standout to date that I’m aware of.

    I applauded the J. Jones pick, but I’m having second thoughts…he looks more like a 4-3 olb at this level imo, but LeBeau was pleased overall so I have to see how year #2 goes.

  • Steve

    Mac was blown out so far to the left, I’ll bet he himself would say he got beat on the play. You need to study your Gifs more.

  • Steve

    That is why Clark is gone next year, too many missed tackles.

  • Douglas Andrews

    He’s been a good pickup for the Steelers but time to move forward with some of the other guys and a possible draft another S or two.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    At his point in his career Heyward is probably further along than A Smith. One player that Ilike that needs some grooming and reminds me of Keisel is the FA out of Northwester…Arnfeldt plays with a high motor, intelligence and good leverage…preseason goaline stance was perfect example . Keenan Lewis was the one who got away. OLB, CB and WR are needs lets not count out this years # 3 either. I also like the TE from Texas Tech…Jace Ammaro….play either in the line or slot and has great hands…

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Ta’amu had a good preseason when he came back he hustled and if you remember was somewhat disruptive ….I wish we would have kept him but I think the combo of A Woods and McClendo will be a good one…

  • SR88

    Jarvis Jones will be fine. Ziggy Hood isn’t bad, he just never does anything to stand out. Heyward is starting to stand out now. He is doing more than Aaron Smith or Kiesel did at the position. I think Heyward is going to be a stud after the way he played down the stretch, but Hood may have been an unsuccessful project. Which makes signing him back AND drafting him in the first place awful moves.

  • SR88

    You are 100% right. Hampton didn’t get the tackles, but he took two blockers allowing Farrior to come down and hit the back in the hole. McClendon got blocked by one guy which allowed the line to get to the 2nd level and prevent the 3-4 MLBs from doing what they are supposed to do in the run game, Ray Lewis said for years he needed a big guy to clog up the middle, then he regained his numbers once Ngata was drafted.

  • Mike Cardwell

    McLendons stats are comparable to Casey Hamptons. You just don’t hear his name mentioned a lot in games because of the low overall tackles, sacks. He did what he was supposed to do. Plug up the middle. The question is how much better this team would have been if they had kept Keenan Lewis IMO.