Steelers' opponents not gaining ground
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer
It's no wonder we've noticed such an improvement--that's over 20 yards less (avg) per game!!
PITTSBURGH - If the government wants to stop the current run on the stock market, it should consider adding a couple of Steelers defenders to its economic team. Since the 2001 season, no NFL team has been so good against the run than the Steelers, who have given up an average of just 87.2 yards per game over that span.
This year, however, the Steelers have taken their run-stopping prowess to another level, giving up just 66.8 yards per game on the ground and 2.8 yards per carry.
Both numbers are big reasons why they opened the season 4-1. Both would be team records if they hold up over the course of the season.
"It's only been five games," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "Talk to me after 16 games. We started off fast last year on defense and tailed off in the second half, so I'm not getting too excited just yet."
The difference is that last season, the Steelers had to deal with injuries down the stretch, losing Smith and strong safety Troy Polamalu in the final month of the season. They limped into the playoffs, losing three of their final four games.
This season, injuries came earlier. Despite playing without defensive end Brett Keisel and Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton the past two games, the Steelers have continued to perform excellent against the run. They allowed just 38 yards on 19 carries in a 26-21 win at Jacksonville Sunday.
Suddenly, a defensive line that was maligned for being too old - six of the seven defensive linemen are 30 or older - wasn't just ancient, it was injured as well.
"Our defensive linemen have really stepped up their game," said inside linebacker Larry Foote. "We didn't have Aaron Smith down the stretch last season and that really made a difference. You see what a difference he makes in our run defense."
The Steelers also got excellent play the last two weeks from defensive end Travis Kirschke and nose tackle Chris Hoke, a pair of experienced backups who filled in for Keisel and Hampton.
"We're playing sound and we're playing the defense as we've been taught," said Smith. "Guys aren't trying to create anything. They're just doing their job. Everybody knows what their responsibilities are."
That had been something that had been a problem at times for the Steelers in the past.
Jacksonville's Fred Taylor had tortured the Steelers in previous seasons by cutting back across the face of the defense. He had 147 yards on 25 carries last season against the Steelers in a regular season meeting and set a Three Rivers Stadium record with 234 yards against them in 2000.
The Steelers limited Taylor to 19 yards on 10 carries Sunday.
"A lot of guys have played together in this defense for a long time, so they know what this defense is supposed to do. I think guys know how defenses are trying to attack us and we're experienced enough to know how to stop that. The more experience you have, the better you're able to diagnose those kind of things."