2016 South Side Questions: What To Make Of Rushing Defense?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: What, if anything, should we take away from the Steelers’ run defense in the season opener?

The Steelers’ season opener against the Redskins should serve as a good example of why mere cumulative yardage is a poor, or at the very least, a very incomplete barometer for measuring the success or failure of an offensive or defensive unit.

The Steelers defense, for example, only gave up 55 rushing yards against Washington, which is impressive taken in isolation, but the Redskins gained that yardage on just 12 rushing plays, averaging 4.6 yards per rush—which is far from impressive, and, in fact, pretty bad.

Matt Jones picked up just 24 yards on his seven carries, but Chris Thompson added 23 yards on only four, with one being a one-yard touchdown, and an eight-yard Kirk Cousins scramble added to the total. Even if you factor out the quarterback scramble, the Redskins still gained 47 rushing yards on 11 carries, which is over 4.2, nearly 4.3 yards per carry.

What is interesting to note is that the defense only gave up one play of double-digit yardage, a 12-yard run, and they recorded two run-stops for negative yardage, but they also gave up a rushing touchdown. They only surrendered a handful of those last season.

Once we go through the charting, we will have a better picture of the situation, with respect to what sort of packages the runs came against. Understandably, many of them are likely to have come out of the nickel, since that is what the Steelers primarily run, and the Redskins ran over 40 passing plays.

One thing that is for certain is that missed tackles played their role. Sean Davis missed a tackle on Jones in the backfield on his 12-yard run, and if you take out just that one play, then the Redskins’ average dips under four.

The season opener offered a fairly small sample size from which to judge the Steelers’ run defense, which would understandably be a work in progress at this point of the season anyway. Still, it bears monitoring in the games going forward.

About the Author

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

    Why should it foever be a work in progress?
    They have the same players and they had all off-season to work on this!
    Again I say as I said it last year…Butler has got to get smarter. This is the NFL.

  • Nolrog

    It’s always a work in progress. Players get older, slower, injured and new players arrive.They don’t spend a lot of time in the off season working on this though. They work on it a bit during training camp, but even then it’s just vanilla defense and not all the scheming and stunting they do during the year.

  • The Tony

    Well it’s hard to stop anything about the run defense when we were playing zone most of the game and essentially begging them to run the ball.

  • Rob

    I think the fact that removing that one Davis missed tackle would put their average under 4, a pretty difinitive reason as to why the run D wasn’t really that bad at all.

  • David Paul

    Like I said all of last year, keep 3 DL on the field in nickel. Hargrave will help clog the middle on running plays AND he can rush the passer.

  • David Paul

    And when you’re only playing 2 DL who are easily double teamed.

  • Donald Tillman

    I don’t think our defense has to be great every week. They need a couple of turnovers and a couple of turnovers on downs every week, and we will win at least 12 games providing that we don’t loose a lot of players to injury. As long as they play at the end of the season and the playoffs like they did last year we should be alright. We as Steeler fans must realize we are now in the offensive phaseof Big Ben’s career, and they must carry the team. When the defense was doing all the heavy lifting up until 2010 I didn’t hear complaints about the offense. In the 70’s the samething happened. The defense won the first two Superbowls, and the offense won the second two. Just believe they will bring home #7!!! Here we go!!!

  • Dorian James

    I’m one of those people who can’t stand the one or two down linemen sets.


    I think it will get better in the case of Davis…young player, probably a little too jacked up in his 1st game as a pro. The big key will always be flying to the ball and gang tackling in case that 1st guy misses.

  • cencalsteeler

    The Redskins didn’t run much because they were trying to attack our weakness,…the pass coverage.
    When they did run, guys were in position, but the tackling was horrible. Theres some ironing out to do on that side of the ball thats for sure. Hopefully, things get cleaned up as we move forward.

  • francesco

    So how many games you give before we see any improvement? As good as our offense might seem…it will take great defense to get us to where we need to go.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The run defense was solid last year, actually.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Missed tackles were a bigger issue.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If you take out that outlier you have to take out the one-yard touchdown outlier too.

  • Rob

    Statistically speaking, yeah, but I was thinking more in terms of a first-year safety missing a tackle, which I expect to happen now and improve later naturally, than just the numbers part of it. But what you’re saying isn’t lost on me.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Don’t get me wrong, this article and the others today aren’t by any means about trying to bury Davis or raise doubts about his development. I don’t have any long-term concerns about him specifically.