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Missed Tackles, Absent Star Has Steelers Run D Singing ‘Same Song’ in 2022

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Steelers Browns Chubb

The Pittsburgh Steelers gave up 115 yards after contact to Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb in Thursday night’s loss to the Cleveland Browns. They only gave up 113 total yards to Chubb. I’ll let the geniuses at NFL Next Gen Stats figure out how that’s possible,

Regardless, what those numbers should tell you is that the Steelers had plenty of chances to tackle the Browns star running back. They just weren’t able. Safety Terrell Edmunds — twice victimized with a miss tackle in the game, according to Pro Football Focus — echoed that explanation on Friday.

“It’s all about gang tackling, everybody running to the ball, wrapping up,” Edmunds said. “We knew that about Chubb. He’s a dynamic back. We have to try our best to limit him. … He got a lot of yards after contact. We’ve just gotta go, gang tackle and everybody run to the ball.”

That points to execution, not X’s and O’s, as to the reason for the Steelers inability to stuff the run against Cleveland, even if the run defense has been a lingering issue for the Pittsburgh defense since the start of 2021.

“They dominated the line of scrimmage (Thursday) night,” Edmunds said. “That’s definitely something we have to push back. We can’t let guys just run down on us. That’s something that we’ve got to work on, something that we’ve got to get better at. We’ve been singing the same song, so we’ve got to figure out exactly what we’ve got to do to get better at it.”

Here’s Ahkello Witherspoon missing a tackle in the first quarter, setting up Chubb’s biggest run of the day.

 

Minkah Fitzpatrick also missed a tackle downfield, giving Chubb 10 more yards. But the issue is just as much about the total-team effort as it is the blatantly missed, open-field tackles.

The Steelers are in Nickel here, so it is a four-man front. One of their two defensive tackles is going to have to be able to absorb a double-team. Chris Wormley gets two blockers, but lets the second one quickly get to the second level and keep Robert Spillane from flowing to the ball.

Edmunds takes up two wide receivers as blockers, but he gets driven backward and Devin Bush can’t avoid getting caught up in the wash as a result. Malik Reed, in T.J. Watt’s left outside linebacker spot, gets solo blocked and driven backward by 5-foot-9, 189-pound running back Demetric Felton. Reed eventually defeats the block, but just a hair too slowly to help Witherspoon with the tackle.

So yes, there are two individual missed tackles on the play, but there are a half-dozen individual failures that meant when Witherspoon missed his tackle, it was a going to be at least 10 more yards until center-field safety Fitzpatrick could get there.

“Missed tackles happen in the game,” Edmunds said. “But you’ve gotta have your other friends or your other teammates right there backing you up on the field.”

The Steelers are in the right schematic defense to stop the run. The Browns are in a three-wide receiver, two-running back set, so the Nickel package makes sense. Edmunds is walked up to the line and there are eight men in the box with Cover 3 in the back. 

This is a run-stuffing call. But the thing about run defense is that everyone that doesn’t do their job creates a cascading effect on the rest of the defense. If Wormley (in for Cam Heyward on this play) can hold the double team, Spillane could have cut the angle down. If Bush doesn’t get caught up in the wash, he could have. If Edmunds bullied a wide receiver like he should, there’s no wash for Bush to get caught up in. If Reed can defeat a block against a tiny running back, he probably gets a tackle for a loss.

Star players like Heyward and Watt can mask a lot of those deficiencies. But they can’t be everywhere. The Steelers weren’t a good run defense last year with those two. But the absence of Watt has further eroded the ability of the defense to absorb individual losses elsewhere. The same thing happened in 2021 when the absences of Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt impacted the rest of the team’s run defenders.

Watt will come back eventually this season, but in the mean time, the rest of the defense needs to be better than it has been.

“We’ve got a lot of games left to play,” Edmunds said. “We’ve got a lot of get-better to do. That’s our whole mindset with it.” 

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