The run defense in 2013 wasn't good enough based on typical Steelers' standards for that aspect of the game, and even though it periodically appeared to be worse during the preseason, well, the preseason is the preseason.
But now the 2014 regular season is one week old, and the Steelers run defense already allowed a 183-yard game to the Cleveland Browns, who got to that total with a 6.1 per-carry average even though they were without starting RB Ben Tate for the entire second half.
"A lot of it is schematic. A lot of it is communication, and a lot of it is just technique," said Coach Mike Tomlin not even 24 hours after the Steelers still managed to defeat the Browns in their opener. "When you have the type of day they had, particularly in the second half, it's never just one thing. It's usually some things. Most of the time that one thing might produce shortcomings in other areas that produce a multitude of things."
The second half the Browns had almost resulted in one of the epic reversals in Steelers history. That's because after scoring on five of their seven first-half possessions, the Steelers took a 27-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. The type of second half the Browns had managed to tie the game, 27-27, with 11:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"More than anything, we have to be good fundamentally, we have to exercise good technique, we have to play the defenses called, we have to communicate those defenses, and as coaches we have to put them in the best possible position to defend the plays," said Tomlin.
Photos from the last victory vs the Browns at Heinz Field on September 7th, 2014.
To put some numbers to the kind of second half the Browns had: 121 yards rushing on 19 attempts (6.4 average) plus touchdowns of 3 and 15 yards; the Browns also ran 41 offensive plays in the second half and yet they faced only four third-down situations. And the one carryover from the preseason problems to the issues faced against Cleveland was that both the Eagles offense and the Browns offense utilized the hurry-up to post big numbers.
"The big thing is that's whatever is called, we have to communicate it," said Tomlin when asked about the effect the Browns' up-tempo style had. "Communication is integral to execution, and I think we could have communicated better. I also thought we could have executed better."
There seemed to be some times when players were looking toward the Steelers sideline only to have the Browns offense snap the ball.
"Being where you're supposed to be means snap-readiness. We were where we were supposed to be, but based on some of the results of those snaps, I can't say that we were ready," said Tomlin. "We're going to work hard on being better in that regard in preparation for Thursday."
TOMLIN'S INJURY REPORT
"We have some injuries to deal with. Dri Archer has an ankle sprain, which will make him questionable. Shamarko Thomas has an ankle-to-Achilles sprain of some kind that's going to make him questionable. All of the guys who were out vs. the Browns – Lance Moore, Brice McCain, Martavis Bryant – will probably remain questionable. We'll see where these guys are when we begin the preparation process tomorrow, but the guys who weren't available against the Browns, the best you could list them as is questionable."