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Defensive success starts in stopping the run

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Last season the Steelers' run defense was atrocious, and that will need to change in 2014 for the team to return to dominance.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

'Sub par' is putting it nicely when talking about the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and atrocious might even be kind in describing the Steelers' run defense last season.

The Steelers defense ranked 21st in the NFL in rush defense, giving up 115.6 rushing yards a game last season. Truly, the days of having a streak of 100 yard rushers was not something that was discussed last year. The Steelers defensive line got moved around and the linebackers were seeing linemen attacking them, instead of them being free to make tackles and attack the gaps.

Defensive line coach, John Mitchell, knows how deflating it can be to give up big chunks of yardage on the ground as he told Steelers.com"I learned a long time ago if you don’t stop the run, hey, that quarterback can get the ball and just hand it back to the (running) back. That’s the most demoralizing feeling you can have when you need to stop somebody and you can’t stop them."

As elementary as that statement may be, it was truth in 2013, and if anyone would know how bad it was, it would be Mitchell. The main concern for the 2014 season would be whether the Steelers have filled holes in the defensive line left when Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and Brett Keisel all departed.

The success of this defense will rely on Steve McLendon having a rebound year, Cam Heyward dominating for 16 games like he did in the second half of last season, whether Stephon Tuitt can make plays in the NFL as a rookie, is there a spot for Dan McCullers on the roster, and where does Cam Thomas fit into the Steelers' line?

Those are some big questions heading into a season that seems to be filled with promise, but one thing is for sure, if the Steelers can't stop the run in 2014 you can expect the same results as last season.