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Steelers’ run defense running on empty

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns

Photo: Getty Images

The debate rages on as to whether what’s plaguing the Steelers is the fault of Matt Canada or Mitch Trubisky.

While you’re continuing to kick the offensive coordinator and the quarterback around, don’t forget about the run defense.

That appeared to be fixed after a strong showing in the opener at Cincinnati. But after further review that performance deserves an asterisk.

The Bengals, as it turns out, can’t run the ball.

And the Steelers haven’t stopped anyone from running when it’s mattered ever since.

The Patriots bled the last 6:33 off the clock while closing out a victory on Sept. 18 at Acrisure Stadium.

And the Browns ran at will four days later in Cleveland.

The Steelers were pushed off the line of scrimmage on the front side.

They were sealed off on the backside, which invited cutbacks if Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt so desired.

They were danced around when they managed to get an unblocked defender in the hole.

And they had an agonizingly difficult time getting Chubb on the ground, even when clean shots presented themselves.

The only time the Browns running game was stopped in its tracks was when head coach Kevin Stefanski decided to pass.

Part of the misery is attributable to how good Cleveland’s offense line is and the caliber of the running back tandem Chubb and Hunt comprise.

But the unsettling part of how helpless the Steelers appeared against both components is how hard they’ve been working ever since last season ended to keep their feathers numbered for just such an emergency.

They couldn’t stop the run last season.

In response, they brought in new players (Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Jack, DeMarvin Leal).

They changed coaches (Teryl Austin is the new defensive coordinator and Brian Flores has been brought aboard as a senior defensive assistant).

And ever since T.J. Watt went down they’ve been tweaking the scheme (four-man fronts and three-inside linebackers formations).

None of it is working.

“It’s a process,” Austin maintained. “We’re gonna continue working. We’re gonna continue coaching our butts off and trying to get it right until we get it right. That’s really the only way you can do it. There’s no magic formula. I wish there was a drink inside I could go drink and then we’d be great but it’s not.

“It’s meeting, detail, performance on the field. We just gotta be able to put those things together and I’m confident we will.”

The tweak this week, so far, has been to elevate Montravius Adams to first-team nose tackle at Tyson Alualu’s expense.

That ought to help, but it’ll still take a lot more than that.

“It really exposed us,” Cam Heyward said of the Cleveland game. “It’s not something I’m gonna run away from.

“It’s not one man’s job. It’s an 11-man job. Run defense is about everybody being a part of it. We all have to be accountable for it. We all have to be better.”

The defense, according to Mike Tomlin, was tasked with being dominant this season and had the capabilities and characteristics to live up to such lofty expectations.

Losing Watt has been a factor in the unit’s inability to justify the hype.

But if the run defense can’t be any better than this minus the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, it won’t be good enough to win with even if Trubisky and the offense somehow come around

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