On the outside chance you are one of those Pittsburgh Steelers fans who stick their head in the sand until the regular season arrives, the goal for the team’s defense has been made crystal clear from the first day of rookie minicamp just over a week ago.
Stop the run.
The team might as well have this on a sign, a la the famous Notre Dame Fighting Irish ‘Play Like A Champion Today’, outside the team locker room so they are reminded of this important fact every time they take the football field.
Keith Butler has talked about it relentlessly, and the players have echoed this sentiment after one week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Did this all stem from Art Rooney II’s comments made at the end of last season where he called the defense’s run defense “soft”?
“I don’t think it took him to say that to let us all know what was happening,” T.J. Watt told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We all felt like we needed to get better in that area all season long. The fact that we didn’t and we capped off the season the way we did was unacceptable.
“I think that’s why we have such a sense of urgency to come out here this time of the year and really work from the ground up on it. It’s little first-step things, using your hands better, setting hard edges, just breaking everything down and starting from the basics and working our way up. We have to focus on the run and not just talk about it. We want to be about it.”
So, the next logical question is why it took something like a 2017 run defense who surrendered 4.4 yards per carry and was ranked 27th in the league to get them to finally start focusing on stopping the run, but that might be best saved for another time.
“We have to play smarter and we can’t get out-physicaled,” safety Sean Davis said. “We’re the Steelers defense. We have to be able to stop the run.”
“We have to stop the run anyway,” said Bud Dupree, the other starting outside linebacker. “We have to start now, find ways and just get into the groove of how we do it during the season.
“It gives us a big backer in the hole. In short-yardage situations, we’re able to rally to the ball a lot. We don’t usually try to do it in a lot of passing situations, just when we have to stop the run.”
If the goal was to talk ingrain in each player’s minds the importance of stopping the run, job well done coaching staff! While most players spoke about the need to stop the run, one veteran thinks everything will be just fine.
“We’re going to be all right,” Stephon Tuitt said. “Last year was last year. Before that, we were one of the top run-defense teams. We’ll be back right where we belong. We’ll in the top 5. We just have to do it. There’s no real talking. We just have to do it. When we do it everyone will stop talking about it.”
Tuitt’s wisdom is spot on. The best way for the media, and fans, to stop talking about something is to go out and simply stop the opponent. Want to debunk the narrative of losing to bad teams? Stop losing to bad teams. Want fans to finally stop talking about a sagging run defense? Stop the run.
While the 2018 season is in its infancy, the Steelers have a long way to go to silence the critics. Here is to hoping they do just that this year.