Let’s be honest, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run defense in 2017 was suspect, at best. There would be games where they controlled the line of scrimmage, and others when they were getting moved off the ball so much it seemed as if the Red Sea was parting for opposing running backs.
While team needs/wants this offseason are becoming more and more clear, team president Art Rooney II let those currently on the roster know what he thought of their run defense this past season. He used one of the worst words you can use when describing any aspect of a defense...
“We need to be more consistent on both sides of the ball,” Rooney told season ticket holder, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Last year there were some games where we were kind of soft against the run, and that’s not Steelers football. We have to get stronger against the run so we can put our defense in position to get after the quarterback.”
Rooney went soft himself by throwing in ‘kind of’ prior to mentioning the team’s sagging run defense, but he could have, and probably should have, been extremely blunt regarding this aspect of the defense.
They were soft.
Dating back to the Dom Capers era of Pittsburgh defense, stopping the run has always been the top priority. Dick LeBeau preached it, and it seems since LeBeau left the team has been meddling in mediocrity, when it comes to stopping the run.
A large part of these issues comes down to the overall defensive philosophy the Steelers deploy. They don’t run their base 3-4 defense much anymore, and even when they do, they don’t have those true 3-4 positional players to make it work the way it should.
The defense doesn’t currently have a Casey Hampton to plug up the middle and allow the inside linebackers to flow and make plays. The current group doesn’t have those dynamic edge rushers who can create disruption in the backfield. Instead, the outside linebackers are asked to drop into coverage more and more.
Losing Ryan Shazier hurt, and probably more than anyone wants to let on. When No. 50 left the lineup, it left two linebackers who lack the sideline-to-sideline athleticism necessary to run the middle of the field, and teams took notice.
I do feel the current defense does have the defensive tackles to get the job done in their base defense, but you can’t ask Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to be the only ones who are natural fits in this area.
When the team leans on sub packages where Javon Hargrave is watching more than playing, you have to realize it comes with risk. The risk is the opposition running against those ‘lighter’ defensive groupings, and this all comes down to scheme and preparation.
Rooney calling the defense soft versus the run should get the players’ attention. No one likes being called soft, but it should also catch the ear of the coaching staff. The defense the team president is calling soft are the ones they coach up day-in and day-out.
If there was ever an offseason where focus and preparation should be paramount, it would be this one — and Art Rooney II is making sure of it.