The Pittsburgh Steelers’ run defense hasn’t been pretty in 2021, so the Cleveland Browns could be in for a big night on the ground in Week 17
The Cleveland Browns go up against one of the weakest run defenses in the NFL on Monday Night Football. This is not your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers team.
They have surrendered 2,141 yards, worst in the league, and 4.84 yards per carry, also worst in the NFL. Due to injuries to some of their big men up front (DE Stephon Tuitt, DT Tyson Alualu, LB Devin Bush are on IR), their front seven is not as formidable as expected.
Nobody needs to feel sorry for the Steelers, but it’s a simple fact that they are not as good as they were expected to be, especially at this point in the season. So, isn’t the obvious response to unleash the NFL’s strong rushing attack against the remaining defenders?
The Browns have a healthy Nick Chubb, plus D’Ernest Johnson sitty pretty with a gawdy 5.69 yards per carry average this season. There’s an outside chance that Kareem Hunt could play, as he is now off the Covid list. They also have Demetric Felton who lines up in the backfield or in the slot.
Cleveland is also getting tackle Jedrick Wills back and they have three blocking tight ends in David Njoku, Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant plus a fullback in Andy Janovich. What else do they need to run the ball? The Browns can run the ball 40 times if they want to, no problem.
As of right now, this is the strongest rushing attack the franchise has had since the time of Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner. It might even be the toughest since Jim Brown and Ernie Green. At the same time, this is the weakest Steelers run defense since before Chuck Noll took over in 1969.
Nevertheless, some of us in the Dawg Pound seem to be spooked about the Steelers. Check out the talk radio shows or the comments sections of Dawg Pound Daily, and you may find much wailing and gnashing of teeth, predicting that the Steelers are going to stack the box with eight stout defenders and shut down the Browns running game. Perhaps this is so, but it has not happened yet.
Let’s look at what the Steelers have done lately.
Last week, Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was injured, but the Chiefs still rang up 127 rushing yards with reserve running backs Darrell WIlliams and Derrick Gore combining for 98 yards on the ground and 91 yards in receiving yards.
The previous week, the Steelers gave up 201 rushing yards to the Tennessee Titans. You will recall that they are operating without superstar Derrick Henry. In fact, they recently picked up former Brown Dontrell Hilliard from the bone pile and Hilliard had nine carries for 49 yards for 5.44 yards per carry.
The week before that, they gave up 242 rushing yards against the Minnesota Vikings. Dalvin Cook had 27 carries for 205 yards. Why can’t Nick Chubb do that?
Prior to that, on December 5, they contained a banged up Lamar Jackson, who had only eight carries for 55 yards. Devonta Freeman added 52 more yards to push them over the century mark.
Before that game, they played the Bengals, and Joe Mixon toted the rock 28 times for 152 yards and the team gained 198 rushing yards and scored three times on the ground.
If it is so easy for the Steelers to put eight in the box and shut down opposing teams rushing attacks, why are they frequently giving up yards over 200 yards on the ground? No, they are just struggling to stop the run, period.
Cleveland Browns need to pound the rock
All those numbers suggest Cleveland needs to run the ball, then when they get tired, run it some more.
If they are worried about overusing Nick Chubb, they have an underutilized D’Ernest Johnson ready to jump in and take 15 carries or more to give Chubb a breather. Plus Demetric Felton can absorb some of the workload as well. Just say the word, coach. If it makes sense to throw the ball to Nick Chubb in the flat, why not throw the ball to Nick Chubb in the flat?
Baker Mayfield has a very high sack percentage. 8.2% is the sixth highest in the NFL, and part of that is because he will not throw the ball to Nick Chubb. That’s a statistical fact.
Nick Chubb is the superstar on the Browns offense who is actually playing like a superstar. Let’s get him to win the game for our team if he can. It’s one thing if the Steelers have a great game plan and prove they can stop Chubb and he is just not getting yards. But the Browns have to avoid the situation they found themselves in with Green Bay, when the running backs were making over eight yards per carry and the Browns talked themselves into believing they needed risky passes in order to have a chance.
Of course, the Steelers still have stars on their team. Cameron Heyward is a stud defensive tackle and T.J. Watt is the Steelers version of Myles Garrett. Heyward is flanked by Isaiahh Loudermilk and Henry Mondeaux, both of who are undersized, so no wonder they cannot stop the run. As a unit they are not performing well against the run, but they can get after the passer because they are quick.
On the opposite side of Watt is Alex Highsmith, who has performed well. At linebacker, Joe Schobert is playing okay, but Andrew Berry was right to not give him big bucks. Robert Spillane is having a tough year.
Look, it’s the NFL, and any given Sunday and all that, but there is no reason to be intimidated and think that the Browns cannot run against this Steelers team.
Don’t get psyched out. Just do what you do best, because it also works best against this team.