Stopping the run: The Steelers’ defense entered the 2020 season wanting to defend the run more consistently and was able to accomplish that goal, for starters.
It came down to what they were doing and how well they were doing it on Monday night against the New York Giants and running back Saquon Barkley.
“A little bit of both,” defensive tackle and defensive co-captain Cam Heyward explained today. “We did some different defenses and brought more people into the box for Saquon, but I think our DBs played a heck of a game.”
Barkley was limited to six yards rushing on 15 carries, a 0.4 average.
More than half of his attempts (eight) ended in a tackle for a loss.
Heyward credited the defensive backs for handling the one-on-one coverage assignments that allowed the Steelers to load up the box against Barkley, and also for coming down and doing their part against the run.
“There are things you see on the field that don’t even count into the stats,” Heyward maintained. “Whether it’s (cornerback) Joe Haden being in the box and making sure he fills his gap or (free safety) Minkah (Fitzpatrick) coming down and stopping a 5-yard gain, we needed all those.
“I thought we did a good job of not letting the running back get started.”
It was indeed a team effort.
Six players showed up on the play-by-play account of the Steelers’ 26-16 victory at MetLife Stadium as having contributed at least half of a tackle for a loss to the cause – inside linebacker Vince Williams, strong safety Terrell Edmunds, outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, nose tackle Tyson Alualu and outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Williams, Dupree and Alualu were in on two such stops.
On the relatively rare occasions when Barkley made it past the line of scrimmage, Edmunds, Alualu, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, Fitzpatrick, Heyward, defensive end Isaiah Buggs and Dupree took part in taking Barkley to the ground.
Barkley had one carry in the game’s final 14:19, which played out after Chris Boswell’s 36-yard field goal had given the Steelers a 19-10 lead.
It was a job well done, but another job awaits.
“That week’s behind us,” Heyward emphasized. “We have new challenges, a different beast to conquer. If we’re not careful we’re not going take care of our business.
“Week in and week out we’ve got to come ready to play, stop this run.”
Complicating that task against the Broncos will be the presence of former Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak on head coach Vic Fangio’s staff in Denver.
“‘Munch’ is the ultimate spy right now,” Heyward assessed. “He’s broken down our defense more than any other offensive coordinator or O-line coach has.
“He’s going to put his offense in a good position, whether it’s combo-blocking, trying to get the pressure off so he does a lot of play-actions and boots (bootlegs) to combat that.
“We’ve got to make sure we stay in our gaps. I think ‘Munch’s’ offenses have always been very good when they can get D-linemen and outside linebackers out of their gaps, and they can just get to the second level. We got to make sure we have a disciplined defense that runs and hits.”
No matter the specifics of this week’s particular plan.