The Pittsburgh Steelers have their yearly bye this upcoming week.
They practiced Tuesday and Wednesday before beginning a four-day weekend. They will return Monday to prepare for their next game Nov. 6 against the Ravens at Baltimore.
Before the Steelers took off for their mini-vacation, the message was sent on what needs to be worked on when they return to practice.
That would be the run defense.
The New England Patriots’ LaGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries last Sunday in a 27-16 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field. That came a week after the Steelers allowed the Miami Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi to run for 204 yards and two scores on 25 carries in a 30-15 loss.
The back-to-back losses have dropped the Steelers to 4-3, though they lead the AFC North by one game over Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.
“I’m not concerned about the last two weeks, I’m concerned about what just transpired,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said following Sunday’s loss. “We acknowledge schematically that we were willing to bleed a little bit in the run game in an effort to minimize big plays. In doing so, we would have to come off blocks and make tackles—not enough of that for us to be successful.”
The Steelers rank right in the middle of the NFL — 16th — in rushing yards allowed at 106.7 per game, but are 27th in yards per attempt at 4.7.
Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones says the root of the problem of stopping the run in recent weeks is simple.
“We’re not coming off of blocks,” Jones said. “We have to come off of blocks and make plays. I don’t know another way to say it.
“We have to go back and look at ourselves and then see how we can get better.”
Tackling has also been a problem, particularly against the Patriots when Blount did most of his running between the tackles and overpowered defenders.
“It’s not one area,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Obviously, we could point to the tackling aspect of it but I think it’s across the board. You look at the film and there’s going to be certain plays where guys get off the block, guys make the tackle and it’s a good run defense. Then, you have one or two plays that stick out in every couple of series, and that’s the issue.”
The Steelers have traditionally had a strong run defense. They allowed just 91.2 yards a game last season, which ranked fifth in the league.
Thus, the Steelers are a little puzzled by their inconsistency in that department this season.
“You do it good for three good plays, then you have two bad plays,” Moats said. “You do it good for two plays, then you have a third bad play. When you’re facing really good backs in this league, they’re going to capitalize on that. That’s the situation right now.
“It’s really nothing that needs to be reinvented. We just need to be more consistent and do it on every play.”
It doesn’t take a defensive genius, though, to predict that opponents will continue to attempt to exploit the weakness.
“If teams feel like they can get 100 or 200 yards rushing on us every game they’re going to continue to run,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “If we keep playing like this, they’re going to keep doing it.”