Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
Looking at the Steelers run defense in week 1.
One of the biggest stories of the week 1 Steeler win was the run defense, and when you hold a great running back like Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries, it should get attention. The Steelers held Barkley to 0.4 yards per carry, 8 of Barkley’s runs were for negative yards, more than half of them. and only 4 of his runs gained more than 2 yards.
Those kinds of numbers don’t happen by accident, and they don’t happen because of a good gameplan, or a few great plays or players. What the Steelers did on run defense week 1 took complete domination by numerous players on the defense. So in this film room we are going to look at five plays that show how the Steelers as a team dominated the Giants run game.
1st quarter, 8:29. Bud Dupree is on the line, to the top of the screen.
The Giants are running to their right, away from Bud Dupree, so they leave him unblocked. This is a great way to get a numbers advantage to the play side, and it works against most teams in the NFL. The Steelers are not most teams in the NFL. Bud Dupree doesn’t just get a good jump at the snap, he meets Saquon Barkley when Barkley has taken one step with the ball. You can’t leave Dupree unblocked, everyone talks about T.J. Watt’s play in backside pursuit, but honestly, Dupree is even better. This is pure athleticism, and you don’t get much more athletic than Bud Dupree.
2nd quarter, 9:01. Bud Dupree is on the line, to the bottom of the screen.
This time the Giants pull their right tackle to seal Dupree out of the play, but Dupree is too fast for that, and Barkley gets one step with the ball again before Dupree puts him on the ground.
1st quarter, 13:09. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi is on the line to the bottom of the screen, Bud Dupree to the top.
They get away from Dupree by bringing Daniel Jones to Saquon Barkley on the play side, but that kind of sell out to one side takes away Saquon Barkley’s ability to make cuts. Barkley is best when he can get the defense going one direction and cut back into an open gap. On this run he is just going to his right, and Adeniyi sheds Evan Engram’s block to meet Barkley for a big loss and a Tyronn Lue step over.
The Steelers were showing a lot of attitude early in this game, they were dominating the Giants run game and letting them know it. When a defense is taking this kind of pride in their play, they are pushing themselves and their team mates to keep it going, they are establishing that they are the alpha dogs on this field, and I love it.
2nd quarter, 14:39. Tyson Alualu is the nose tackle, lined up on the “F” in the mid-field logo.
Tyson Alualu destroys the Giants center and is in the backfield almost immediately to drop Barkley for another loss. But look around Alualu, T.J. Watt is upfield taking away anything to his side, Alex Highsmith is in for Dupree, and beats the Giants blocking tight end and is coming, Stephon Tuitt gets involved late, there is nowhere for Barkley to go.
3rd quarter, 8:57. Alex Highsmith (#56) is on the line, to the top of the screen. Robert Spillane (#41) is in at linebacker, on the 40 yard line.
Evan Engram had a lot of good blocks in this game, including winning some reps against T.J. Watt. Here Engram drives Highsmith back, but Highsmith keeps fighting, gets loose and makes it to the sideline to hold Barkley to a 1 yard gain. Robert Spillane comes from the far side of the play, navigates traffic to get there with him. But there’s more, Chris Wormley is able to get free in the backfield to force Barkley farther outside, Joe Haden comes flying in to take out a lead blocker and Terrell Edmunds is there to make the tackle if Highsmith and Spillane can’t. Team defense, stuffing the run on a play without Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt or Vince Williams. This run defense was good enough that Vince Williams and his phenomenal game didn’t even need to show up in this film room.
The Giants offensive line had a bad game, the Steelers run defense had a great game. How much of this was on each team will get sorted out over the rest of the season, but the intensity and pride this team brings to run defense, and the full team effort they showed is a great sign for this defense being great against the run again this season.