The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, informally known as the South Side facility, now into the regular season. It’s where they otherwise train all year round, and the facility that Burt Lauten insists everybody refers to by its full name.
There are still unsettled questions that need answering, even deep into the regular season. They entered the process with questions in the starting lineup, in scheme, and elsewhere, but new problems always arise that need to be resolved.
Even questions about who’s starting and when may not have satisfactory answers in their finality, as midseason changes are certainly quite possible, for some positions more than others. We’re also feeling out how the new coordinator posts—or posts in new contexts—end up playing out.
There’s never any shortage of questions when it comes to football, and we’ll be discussing them here on a daily basis for the community to “talk amongst yourselves”, as Linda Richman might say on Coffee Talk.
Question: What are we to make of the Steelers’ run defense in the season opener?
The Steelers allowed 133 yards on the ground during the first game of the season, though it took 70 minutes of doing rather than 60. By my count, however, the Bengals only picked up eight net rushing yards in overtime, so they still allowed 125 in regulation.
But was it all that efficient? It took Cincinnati 34 carries, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and Joe Burrow had 47 of those yards, including a 23-yard scramble late in regulation. Obviously, you don’t want to have those rushing lanes to allow a quarterback to scramble, but that’s a passing down, not a run down.
Joe Mixon himself averaged only three yards per carry, picking up 82 on 27 rushing attempts. 31 of those yards came on a poorly-played 4th and 1 late in the first half where it was either going to be a stuff or the back was going to break out. Well, he got out.
But his other 26 carries only traveled all of 51 yards, not even two yards per carry. That is certainly commendable, right? If you take out the 31-yard run by Mixon and a 26-yard scramble by Burrow, that chops the remainder of the Bengals 32 rushing attempts down to 76 yards. That’s under 2.4 yards per carry.
Mixon rushed for five and then six yards on consecutive plays to open the Bengals’ second drive. Outside of the 4th-and-1 play, he didn’t have much success after that. Indeed, he had something like 20 unsuccessful runs out of 27, a rather poor rate. I didn’t make a detailed account, but I can guarantee you his successful run percentage was well below 50 percent.
So I ask again, what do we make of the Steelers’ run defense through one game? We also have to consider that this was a game-one scenario in which their opponent was breaking in a new offensive line with four new starters. There’s only so much we can do in terms of drawing conclusions, and the numbers are what they are, but looking a bit beyond the raw data, is there reason for optimism that it won’t be a liability this year?