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Mitchell is a stop-the-run-first type of guy

Posted Nov 20, 2015

The NFL may be a “passing league” but assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell believes, if you don’t stop the run you don’t have a chance.

The Steelers may have held the Browns to 15 rushing yards on 14 attempts but assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell wasn’t impressed.

Mitchell wants to see a lot more of what he saw last Sunday against Cleveland when the Steelers resume play following this weekend’s bye on Nov. 29 at Seattle.

And even that might not be good enough.

“I’m never happy with the run defense,” Mitchell insisted. “When you give up 186 yards, 190 yards, I don’t have anything to be happy about. I think when coaches get happy they get fired.

“Just because we stopped (Cleveland) for 15 or 20 yards, that’s not good enough. I expect that every week. We can’t do that once in a while. I’m not happy at all.”

Mitchell remains a stop-the-run-first-and-foremost type of guy.

That’s how he learned the game under Paul “Bear” Bryant.

And that’s still the way football has to be played, Mitchell maintained, even if his legendary coach at Alabama would have found today’s game relatively unrecognizable.

“You have to make the game one-dimensional,” Mitchell insisted. “If you don’t make it one-dimensional you’re going to have a tough time winning. If we can go out there and stop the run, now ‘Coach Buts’ (defensive coordinator Keith Butler) can put the pressure on, we can come after them.

“But when a team can get 100-plus yards (rushing) on you it’s two-dimensional. Now they use the play-action, they use the bootleg. It puts you behind the eight-ball. We want to put them behind the eight-ball. We want to stop the run on first and second down, let it be third-and-7, thrid-and-8. Now we have a better chance to win third down.”

The Steelers improved to 4-2 when holding an opponent under 100 yards rushing with last Sunday’s 30-9 victory over Cleveland.

They’re 2-2 when an opponent rushes for a triple-digit total.

The effort against Cleveland improved the Steelers to No. 5 in the NFL in run defense at 93.0 yards per game. But Mitchell clearly hasn’t forgotten the 111 yards on the ground allowed on Sept. 20 against San Francisco, the 191 on Oct. 1 against Baltimore, the 138 on Oct. 25 at Kansas City and the 139 on Nov. 8 against Oakland.

All of that is as memorable to Mitchell as it is unacceptable.

“We’ve been giving up a lot of yards rushing here and that’s not usual for the defensive lien and the defense,” he said. “I’m glad they played well (against Cleveland) but that’s no indication of the way we’re playing.

“We have to play better every week because form here on out, you look at the schedule, we’re going to play running football teams. You have to take one step at a time one week at a time and you have to stop the run every week.”

The Seahawks are fourth in the NFL in rushing heading into their game against the 49ers this Sunday.

“I tell people, ‘It’s a passing league but if you don’t stop the run you don’t have a chance,’” Mitchell said.

The Steelers are No. 22 in total defense but they’re also No. 5 in scoring defense at 19.1 points per game.

Mitchell is willing to acknowledge improvement through the first 10 games if not award the defense his seal of approval.

“As a unit we have a lot of guys who haven’t played together,” he said. “I think they’re coming together, learning how to play together and you get that in practice every day.

“You have to play together. You have to understand where your help is and where you don’t have any help. They’re doing a much better job and I think it’s showing up on Sunday.”