The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t just have a bad run defense in 2021, they finished dead-last; 32nd out of 32 teams. While improving the offense was the front office’s main goal this off-season, returning the run defense to prominence was on the to-do list as well. Over the years, Steelers defenses have become known for stopping the run (and rushing the passer). The team made several moves to make sure the run defense wasn’t as bad this season.
Tyson Alualu’s return to the lineup certainly helped, along with the additions of Larry Ogunjobi and DeMarvin Leal. The team also let Keith Butler walk as defensive coordinator, replacing him with Teryl Austin. Austin has been on the staff for four years now and understands what it takes to have an elite defense. After one week, the progress is obvious under the new defensive coordinator. Austin provided insight into his defense’s performance in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals via Josh Rowntree of 93.7 The Fan:
“Still got a long way to go. I think we’re better, but we got a long way to go, We’ve got to do better,” Austin said via Rowntree. “We gave up one big run on that fourth down play. Other than that, I thought we stood up and played tough. It’s a long season, and we’ve got to continue to do that. We’ll find out at the end of the year how good we really are.”
Cincinnati Bengals running back, Joe Mixon ended the day with 82 rushing yards on 27 carries. Despite the large workload, the run defense did well in slowing him down. As Austin mentioned, he did break free for a big chunk, a 31-yard gain to be exact. If you wipe out that run, he ran for under two yards per carry in his other 26 carries. The signs are definitely trending upward for the run defense, and that opening performance was against a very good running back and an improved offensive line as well.
Austin and the defense will have their work cut out for them again in Week 2 this Sunday against the New England Patriots, known as a run-first team. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson lead a two-headed monster in the Patriots’ backfield. They may run the ball even more this weekend with quarterback Mac Jones dealing with a rib injury. His status for the game is in doubt at the moment, but even if he plays, he won’t be at full health.
Austin is clearly encouraged by the run defense’s progress, and he’s right. There is still a long way to go in their improvements. This week will provide another good test, and shortly after, the Steelers will face Nick Chubb and the Cleveland Browns. By then, we should know if this run defense has returned to form. The defense will need another big game by the defensive line this weekend, as Cam Heyward, Ogunjobi, and Alualu headed the physicality up front.
What do you expect from this team’s run defense in 2022? What do you think they will finish in that department? What needs to happen for them to build off their Week 1 performance? Share your opinions in the comment section below, and on our social media!
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