The Pittsburgh Steelers run defense was the worst in the NFL in 2021. As a result, the front office prioritized fixing that aspect for the 2022 season. DeMarvin Leal was one of those reinforcements, as he fell to the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. With Cam Heyward getting older, it made sense to pick a talented guy like Leal that fell into their lap.
Two games into the season, there are already encouraging signs for Leal and the prospects of his future. He’s played 33 total snaps through the first two weeks, as he increased to 24% of the team’s defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots. In those snaps, he showed some flashes, particularly in the run game.
While it’s not fully reflective in the box score, as is typically the case with defensive linemen, he did rack up two tackles and a pass deflection on Sunday. The Steelers continue to be exceptional at batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage, as Heyward and TJ Watt have become so good at that over the years. Coach Tomlin spoke on Leal’s continued improvement in his press conference on Monday.
“He’s a young guy that’s growing. We’re finding ways to get him on the field. He’s taken advantage of the opportunities and making some plays in the meanwhile,” Tomlin said in his presser. “I just think it’s reasonable to expect all of the above to continue. We’re going to find ways to get him on the field, he’s going to learn. He’s gonna make more plays, he’s gonna get better. That just the natural maturation process of a young guy that’s doing enough to get further opportunities.”
Leal’s maturation will only help the team limit the snaps of guys like Heyward and Tyson Alualu as the season goes on. The depth in the defensive line room is perhaps better than ever, and the team is working to utilize that depth. It should only help that unit stay healthy and fresh in the long run, as the 17-game season wears on.
It’s unclear just how much progress the team has made when it comes to its run defense. Through two games, they have allowed 257 rushing yards on 65 carries to the Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals. Mac Jones’ seven carries for six yards in Sunday’s game make the run defense look a little bit better than they actually were. Running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson both averaged over 4.7 yards per carry.
The struggles were on full display on the last drive of the game, as the Patriots picked up four first downs to seal the game. The defensive line struggled to get off blocks, as Harris and Stevenson gained chunks on each play down the stretch. Through two weeks of the season, the Steelers are 24th in run defense. It won’t get any easier for them in Week 3, either.
The run defense will face the ultimate test this upcoming Thursday against the Cleveland Browns, who possess one of the better running games in the NFL. Along with an impressive offensive line, the Browns have arguably the best RB duo in football in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. That should bode well for Leal and his playing time, as the black and gold will need to neutralize the trenches if they want to improve to 2-1.
Would you like to see Leal on the field more? If so, what defensive linemen for the Steelers should see the field less? Share your opinions and thoughts in the comment section below!
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