The Pittsburgh Steelers weren't ranked horribly against the run in 2014. 6th in the NFL to be exact, while giving up just over 100 yards a game, by average. Some teams would be ecstatic with a ranking as high as the Steelers had last season, but the ranking is rather deceiving. The Steelers got gashed through the air, and most opponents stopped even trying to run the football and focused on the pass to beat the Steelers.
The run defense started out extremely rough, and although improvement did occur throughout the season, taking the run away from opponents was never the case. Teams were able to run when they had to, and at times whenever they wanted to. The one common denominator with the Steelers run defense improving was when nose tackle Steve McLendon was in the lineup.
McLendon had a rough season dealing with a shoulder injury which certainly hindered his production and ability to stay on the field, but when he was on the field the team's run defense was markedly improved.
"You're trying to win. You don't care how much pain you're in, how much it hurts. The only thing you want to do is win the game. Everyone on the team had one common goal. Sometimes you have to play through pain, and that's exactly what I had to do." McLendon told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
McLendon had offseason surgery to repair the injured shoulder, and feels he is in a good place from a conditioning and strength stand point entering 2015.
"I went ahead and got it fixed," McLendon said. "Now I'm back healthy and I can use it. I regained all my strength and range of motion. I can help my team out now. I don't have to worry about any more setbacks or time off. I don't have any worries. I took the necessary steps to get ready for this year."
McLendon joins Cameron Heyward and William Gay as fellow defenders who are entering the final year of their contracts, and McLendon's injury prone 2014 season gave back up nose tackle Daniel McCullers valuable playing time as a rookie. The experience McCullers received moving into his sophomore season could give him an edge towards the team deciding whether he is the future of the nose tackle position. McLendon hopes his future is with the Steelers, but the only thing he is focused on is improving his play in 2015.
"My biggest thing now is trying to stay healthy, do everything that the trainers and the coaches tell me to do to stay healthy and prepare myself for the upcoming season. All I can do is work hard and continue to learn and get better. [The contract] will take care of itself. I can't worry about that."