Pittsburgh Steelers: Defense’s Return to Dominance Starts with Steve McLendon
One thing the Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for over the past 12 full seasons in the NFL is their dominant run defense, and the main reason for that was nose tackle Casey Hampton. The 6-foot-1, 325-pound longtime Steelers anchored Pittsburgh’s defensive line from 2001-12, and now it appears that the team is greatly missing his presence.
During Hampton’s tenure in the Steel City, Pittsburgh’s run defense ranked first in the league four times (2001-02, 2004, 2010), twice at No. 2 (2008, 2012), was ranked third four times (2005-07, 2009), was eighth in 2011 and had their only ranking out of the top 10 in 2003 (12th in the league).
Unfortunately, the story has changed dramatically for the Steelers in 2013. Only four games into the season, Pittsburgh is currently 29th in the league in stopping the run with a 122.8 yards-per-game average. Eliminating the missed tackles, the defense displayed thus far will greatly help improve their ranking. However, what would help even more is the play of current nose tackle Steve McLendon.
Since entering the league in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, McLendon has steadily improved while backing up Hampton, and has definitely earned his role as the team’s starting nose tackle. Even though he’s proved to be the man in the middle of the Steelers’ defensive front, he now has to step his game up and do a better job of helping control the line of scrimmage, especially against the run.
Of the four teams Pittsburgh has faced this year, only one is in the top 10 in rushing, the Minnesota Vikings. So saying that the Steelers were up against superior ground attacks isn’t a legitimate argument. Pittsburgh’s defense will just have to be more rigid, and it all starts up front with McLendon.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google+