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Steelers Defense Looks to Make Big Statement



Steelers Defense
The Steelers defense against the San Francisco 49ers, Sept. 10, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers’ defense has a challenging task ahead of them against the Browns. A team without Cam Heyward has to face one of the best running backs in all football, Nick Chubb. The man that Mike Tomlin referred to all week as ‘Mr. Chubb’ in a term of endearment, Chubb has repeatedly gashed the Steelers over the years. Cleveland’s success against Pittsburgh is directly tied to what Chubb does and does not do.

Whenever Chubb rushes for more than 80 yards against the Steelers, they are 0-3 against the Browns during the timeframe he has played for Cleveland. It’s a stat that needs to carry some context around it, but in large part, the train moves as Chubb moves with Cleveland. The Steelers have to slow him down.

“There’s not gonna be no arm tackling this guy,” rookie defensive tackle Keeanu Benton said. “You really got to wrap him up and take him down. That’s been an emphasis for the D line this morning.”

RELATED: Steelers Defense Aims to Make Big Change

Steelers Browns Chubb

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24), right, is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Myles Jack (51) after a short gain during the second half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Nothing that Chubb does should shock anyone. He has an argument as the best pure runner of the football in the entire NFL. Chubb utilizes his burst to destroy angles, has elite contact balance that makes it tough to bring him down, and his vision might be his best trait. To minimize his impact, a run defense must stay gap-disciplined, shed blocks, and rally to the football like a pack, wrapping him to slow Chubb’s legs. One of the greatest attributes that Chubb brings to the table is grinding out those hidden yards with legs, even once met in the hole.

“Obviously, if you’re talking about the Cleveland Browns man, it starts with Mr. Chubb (Nick Chubb),” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “What he is capable of doing, the way he controls the game, and so forth. It’s a little bit different, but similar to Christian McCaffrey in that he keeps him on schedule, he controls the climate. If we’re doing anything in this football game, man we got to work to minimize that guy’s impact. That is challenging because of the talent that they have around him quite frankly.”

Chubb is the perfect game for the Steelers to prove they can sink or swim against top running backs without Heyward. History says no to that notion. And Pittsburgh did not exactly swim last year after losing T.J. Watt for the first half of the season following his pectoral injury. But if this year is any different, the opponent’s rushing attacks can carve the Steelers up and down the field.

It is hard to see the Steelers surviving until mid-November, when Heyward is likely to come back, without the team’s defense tightening up in their run defense. It goes directly against the identity of what the team built the group to be this season and could lead to more ugly performances. Monday night is going to make a statement about the Steelers’ defense. It just depends if that message is going to positively or negatively affect them down the road.

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