The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is struggling, there is no mystery there. It has been well-documented just how bad the Steelers have been on the defensive half of the football, especially in run defense. Prior to the team’s Week 6 game vs. the Seattle Seahawks they were a Top 10 run defense. Now, just nine weeks later, they are in the bottom five in the league in stopping the run.
Enter the Steelers’ Week 15 opponent, the Tennessee Titans. They will be without their star running back, Derrick Henry, but it doesn’t mean they still can’t run the ball. In fact, they are still running the ball but doing it in a different way.
“I look at both just to get a sense of what they did before and if they changed at all,” Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward said Thursday. “I think they really tried to settle back into the run because that opened up a lot of their offense. Everybody’s gone through their hiccups, but I think the run really settles everybody down and allows them to really play with their play action a bunch. You have to watch it all.
“It’s a myriad of backs now. With Henry it was just one guy. He could carry the load and the team. Everyone has a prescribed job. I think D’Onta Foreman is their main back, but they have two other backs they use and are able to use in different ways. Everybody gets their share of the carries.”
Even with Henry in the lineup, it wasn’t as if he was the only player who could make plays for the Titans. Ryan Tannehill has his share of weapons at his disposal, and even without AJ Brown, the team got Julio Jones back for their Week 14 game last Sunday. Not that Jones is what he was in his prime with the Atlanta Falcons, but Tannehill has been making plays with both his arms and legs.
“Tannehill is very good,” said Heyward. “A lot of situational running, especially in the red zone. He is very dynamic. We have to be very alert in the red zone game and do a good job of keeping him in the pocket.”
At some point the questions have to be answered regarding the Steelers’ play, not necessarily based on the opponent. After all, the Pittsburgh defense hasn’t discriminated when it comes to who they have have allowed to run all over them. What can the defense do to rectify the problem? That is the million dollar question.
“Our first halves have been atrocious, and we really have to kick it into gear to climb back into it,” said Heyward. “It starts here. It starts at practice. We have to understand when you start a game you can’t spot people points. This game is already hard enough as it is. To go into a game and be down 20 some points, that is not a recipe for success.”
Can the Steelers find a way to right the ship and win their final four games of the regular season? Most would suggest they can’t, but Heyward realizes this final stretch run will be very telling to those players on the team.
“I think these four games are show me how much you want it and see where we fall out,” said Heyward.
There will be a lot to prove on Sunday when the Steelers host the Titans at Heinz Field, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold.