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Pittsburgh Steelers

Chiefs big challenge for porous Steelers run defense

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave (79), Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end L.T. Walton (96) and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) get together in a huddle prior to the start of an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears on September 24, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

PITTSBURGH — Stopping the run has been a problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite what the numbers say, they believe they can fix it.

The Steelers are 28th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing an average of 136.6 yards through their first five games. They are also 31st in yards allowed per rush with a 5.1 average, ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars (5.4).

“Honestly, I’m not really worried,” Steeler inside linebacker Ryan Shazier said.  “I know we’re going to get this taken care of. Right now, we’re going through a bad little slump against the run. We’re going to get this fixed. We’re going to get everything back in order.”

The Jaguars rushed for 231 yards on 37 attempts last Sunday, rolling to a 30-9 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette had 181 yards on 28 carries and scored two touchdowns, the last on a 90-yard burst with 1:47 remaining.

The Steelers also failed to stop the running game in their other loss this season. The Bears rushed for 220 yards in an overtime victory in Week 3 in Chicago.

“I think we just have to do a better job of tackling and do a better job of fitting up the runs and getting ourselves in better position,” Shazier said. “When we’re giving up three and four yards a run, people are going to continue to run the ball and they’ll be able to run it effectively. But if we get them in longer downs and distances we can cause them to pass the ball more. When you’re playing football like that, people are going to continue to run the ball.”

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler vowed to fix the run defense following the loss to Chicago. The Steelers then held the Ravens to 82 yards on the ground in a 26-9 victory at Baltimore in Week 4.

However, the Steelers sprung a leak last week even though they knew the Jaguars wanted to rely heavily on Fournette rather than putting the game in the hands of quarterback Blake Bortles.

“We were all challenged on Wednesday and we didn’t meet that challenge,” Steeler safety Mike Mitchell said, referring to the first day of preparation for the Jaguars. “It was another (poor) performance.”

Defensive end Cameron Heyward put it in even harsher terms.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “We knew what they were going to do, and they did it. It’s technique and missed tackles. We talk about it every week.”

Now the Steelers (3-2) face the lone unbeaten team in the NFL on Sunday when they visit the Kansas City Chiefs (5-0). That is not good news for Pittsburgh.

The Chiefs are second in the league in rushing with a 156.2 average, trailing only the Jaguars (165.2). Kansas City also tops the NFL with an average of 5.7 yards an attempt.

After getting run over by a rookie last week, the Steelers will try to contain Chief rookie running back Kareem Hunt this week. The third-round draft pick from Toledo leads the NFL with 609 rushing yards with four touchdowns in 96 attempts. He is the only player in the league averaging over 100 yards a game.

The Steelers considered drafting Hunt but instead chose Pittsburgh’s James Conner in the third round.

“We have a lot of respect for him obviously,” Steeler coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s a talented runner, has a definite run demeanor. I’m not surprised by what he’s doing. He’s been an asset to them.”

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