The Steelers run defense plummeted from #2 in the league in 2012 to 21st in 2013 and may sink even lower in 2014
Long gone are the days where running the ball was futile against the Steelers defense. Most teams didn't even bother to try it, nowadays people run it at will and with great success too. For a while the Steelers had the best front 7 bar none in the NFL. Now, not so much. Why has it slipped so much?
For starters, the longest tenured defensive lineman under contract for next year would be Steve McClendon, who first appeared in a Week 2 game against Tennessee in 2010. Sure Cameron Heyward looks to have a very bright future, but who else on the defensive line can play at the level he does? There are many question marks on that line. Ziggy Hood wasn't the worst player we ever had, but he did not live up to the expectations many had of him, which is confusing to me. He is the strongest player on the team, yet has struggled to get off blocks and get penetration on runs. Then you have McClendon, who shouldn't really be at NT if you ask me. He is too small to take on the double teams that Casey Hampton used to and can struggle one on one with some of the better centers in the league. In order to run a 3-4 successfully, your NT needs to be able to eat up a center and a guard. The best NT in the draft is Louis Nix, but unless he falls to the 2nd round there is absolutely no reason to spend the 15th overall pick on him. Next player to discuss is Al Woods. In my eyes he was the best of the the FA lineman this team had, and we will really struggle if he leaves us. It took him until 2013 to see significant playing time, and he certainly took advantage of it and was the best lineman besides Heyward this year if you ask me. Keisel will be 36, played less snaps than Woodley did this year and battled a foot injury half the season. He like Foote is done, there is no reason to spend money on him. That leaves us with Brain Arnfelt and Nicholas Williams. Both were practice squad member only and Arnfelt saw limited action.
Lets go to the second level of the front 7 at linebacker. On the bright side we still have Lawrence Timmons, one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He is exactly what the steelers envisioned themselves getting when they drafted him and then some. He is great, but can't do it all on his own. Many people talked about how Foote being out was a reason the run defense suffered. They are right, however he will no longer be with us so we have to move forward without him. On the bright side, Vince Williams at the very least showed he can be a good run defender. Sure he looked his age a few times this year, but to say he didn't impress me at times would be a lie. He reminds me a little bit of Brandon Spikes. Very good in run defense and not great in coverage. He is always an option, and then there is Spence. He is coming along very well from his rehab and Keith Butler has given him a lot of praise (not something he does very often) and believes if he is healthy, he can do a very good job at the LB position. We also have Garvin, but he will likely be utilized more in sub packages against the pass, rather than line up next to Timmons, but you never know. The outside is where I am most concerned with this group. Worilds impressed me against the run last year, he looked to be pretty solid against the run. He held up pretty good at the point of attack and was good on the backside pursuit as well (See week 13 against Baltimore) Worilds will only get better and for the record he finished with more tackles in a single season than Woodley ever has in his career, so that shows you he can hold up against the run. The right side is what concerns me. Forget about him being able to rush the passer, if he can't set the edge on runs we won't even be in a situation to apply pressure. This is where the loss of Harrison hurts the most. Most people knew him for his pass rush, but if you ask me his run defense was the strongest part of his game. I don't think I have ever seen someone to be able to force a run back inside while fighting the double team of a tackle and a tight end as good as harrison was. Not only did he hold up at the point well, but he took excellent angles of pursuit. Every time a running back tried to bounce it outside, 92 ran right into him and he was very good at running plays down backside too. I'm not sure how Jones will fare against the run, it remains to be seen.
Well, we will see what 2014 has in store for us. I just have a bad feeling our run defense will drop lower than it did last year, but however if they play their cards right in FA and the next 2 drafts, we will have the personnel to be good against the run again, but until then there are a lot of unknowns