For the past several off seasons “the story” on the Steelers has been the age-induced demise of their defense. Things of course are not that simple. The real question has been whether the Steelers could draft well enough and inject quality youth into the line up fast enough to keep pace.
On the offensive side of the equation the Steelers have mocked the naysayer’s by managing to consistently win in spite of fielding offensive lines which are both subpar and prone to injury. Here the question has been, can the Steelers keep it up?
Against the Houston Texans Steelers Nation got to see that experiment play out under live-fire conditions and, if the results were not entirely one-sided, the game’s outcome was not as close as the 17-10 score indicated.
The Tomlinator Hath No Run Defense
The watchword of the NFL today is “Thou Shalt Not Run.” But Steelers Nation was treated to a trip on a time machine during the first quarter of the Steelers-Texans game. Spectators were treated to a classic display of smash-mouth, ball control, ram it down their throats Steelers football.
Unfortunately it was the Houston Texans who were doing the running.
95 yards 19 plays and 10:55 – that how long the Texans drove and how much time they consumed from the clock. It isn’t quite fair to say that Adrian Foster ran on the Pittsburgh Steelers at will, and that in-and-of-itself, is scary.
The Steelers did stuff the Texans running game on a number of occasions. Most notably in the 3rd quarter and then again when the Texans were attempting to kill the clock at the very end. Take out Foster’s longest run of the day run and the Steelers held him to a human 3.8 yards per carry.
There’s a reason they don’t curve the rankings of NFL rushing defenses, and that’s because defenses that 42 yard touchdown scampers in 4th quarters of tied games tend to lose.
What ails the run defense remains uncertain. Cut blocking did not seem to be an issue. Even before Aaron Smith left the game injured, Cameron Heyward got plenty of snaps so age was not a factor, at least at the end positions. Absent the opportunity for film study it is unfair to state but certainly fair game to question whether Casey Hampton has lost a step.
Either way the Houston Texans not only succeeded in running when they needed to, they dominated with the run at times. It’s been a long time since a Steelers opponent could say that.
Trai(ng) Foster Fails to Plug the Sieve
A little more than a week ago scientist shocked the world by recording faster than light speeds. A century-old principle of science, it seemed, had been turned on its head.
After the 2008 draft Mike Tomlin suggested that adding weapons at the skills positions could compensate for insufficiencies in the offensive line. The Steelers 2 Super Bowl appearances in the ensuring 3 seasons suggested that a century-old principle, that winning on offense starts with a strong line, was to be turned on its head…
…Ah, not so fast on that one.
Against the Indy Colts the Steelers sieve (aka offensive line) did struggle, mightily at times, but as it was later revealed communications issues were the root of at least some of the Colts big plays. Fair enough.
Week four brought another week of working together plus the introduction of Trai Essex and Ramon Foster into the starting.
Things only got worse. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 5 times and took a pounding on numerous other occasions. Two Roethlisberger turnovers got negated by penalties and Ben saved a couple of three would-be sacks by tossing the ball away.
Even the most die-homer would have a hard time proving that there is no worse offensive line in the NFL now. The Steelers offensive line is doing a horrendous job. The question is no longer, “Can it improve enough to compete” but, “Can it improve enough so Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get killed?”
Run Redman Moore?
Neither Isaac Redman nor Mewelde Moore have enough carries to give either man an honest test, but thus far both men appear to be running better than their counter part, Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall didn’t get many carries, but when he did carry the results were little different than they have been for the rest of the season, which is to say unimpressive. Both Redman and Moore got fewer chances with the ball a delivered better results running behind the same offensive line.
Both men deserve more chances to run the ball.
Cameron Heyward is only playing his fourth NFL game and as his play improves, so will the Steelers run defense. Whether that improvement can occur fast enough to give the Steelers a shot at contending this year remains an open question.
But any such improvement will be meaningless unless the Steelers can see some sort of improvement on their offensive line.
Can the line improve? Well, they have no where to go but up.