The Pittsburgh Steelers had given up a big run play or two to the Oakland Raiders the week before playing the Cleveland Browns. They also got chewed up by Charcandrick West when the team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. To beat Johnny Manziel this past Sunday, Pittsburgh knew they had to eliminate Cleveland's ground game and force Manziel to beat them on his own, which he was unable to accomplish.
The Steelers did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage against Cleveland on Sunday and only allowed 15 rushing yards to the Browns throughout the game. A lot of what the Steelers do correctly involve solid fundamentals and getting the job done at the point of attack.
Here we can se Cam Thomas and Arthur Moats flow to the inside of the play and take away the interior gaps while Timmons flows right to his spot and gives Isaiah Crowell no place to go. Beating your opponent to the point of attack is the most basic way to win these kinds of battles on the early downs and force 2nd and longs and 3rd and longs. This is the beginning to winning drives and stopping offenses.
My biggest pet-peeve with the Steelers' outside linebackers last year was the fact that they often did not keep their outside shoulder free when engaging blockers when their job was to maintain the edge. When you don't give up your outside shoulder you can disengage with much more ease and keep the runner from getting to the sideline.
Here Bud Dupree, a rookie, shows great fundamentals. Not only does he get sucked up into the play and read the reverse, but the manner which he engaged the pulling blocker was textbook. Keep your head up and your outside shoulder free, then when the ball-carrier comes your way disengage and attack. Dupree does an amazing job setting the edge and keeping Travis Benjamin contained on the play.
Sean Spence fills his gap and finishes the play, but all this is made possible because Bud Dupree did his job on the outside.
We often highlight defensive ends and linebackers in film room with the way we play, but we have to give some love to Steve McLendon. He's done an exceptional job this season at nose tackle (and defensive end on occasion) at slicing through offensive lines and taking on double teams.
Here he engages Alex Mack, a two time pro bowl center, and fights to cross his face and slice into the backfield. The Browns did a good job setting the edge on this play with their tight end sealing Jarvis Jones, so this play would have gone for a big gain had McLendon not busted through the offensive line and swallowed this play before it could begin.
Winning on early downs lead to more wins on the later downs. The Steelers preached this last season when their defense was struggling, and now they're doing just that when they get the opportunities to do so more often than not. Pittsburgh's run defense will get a Stephon Tuitt fully healthy and without a brace when they return from the bye week, and that might be frightening for offensive linemen everywhere.