From a run defense standpoint, Sunday’s defeat by the hands of Chicago Bears was indubitably one of their worst performances in recent memory. To put this performance into perspective, coming into Sunday, the Bears had a combined 145 rushing yards in their first two games. By the time overtime had ended, the Bears had accumulated a total of 220 yards on the ground against the Steelers’ defense. Running back Jordan Howard led the way with 138 yards, while rookie running back Tarik Cohen accounted for 78 yards, and quarterback Mike Glennon added 4 rushing yards.
The poor showing by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense on this day left many devoted fans wondering how they could allow a team to dominate them in this fashion. Upon further review of this game, I came to find that the answer was directly related to the Bears’ offensive line, and how they were able to exploit the Steelers’ front seven throughout the entire game. Coming into Sunday, the Steelers were without two of their best defensive players, yet many viewed this as a game the Steelers should have dominated; thus adding to the disappointment of the outcome.
Unable to Set the Edge
One of the primary responsibilities of an outside linebacker and defensive ends is called ‘setting the edge’. The idea of setting the edge, in relation to run defense, is to contain and establish control on the outside of the line. The overall objective with setting the edge is to prevent any run from going outside the C-gap (the gap between the tackle and the tight end).
In this particular sequence, Steelers outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo had two major responsibilities: a) to shoot the D-gap , b) containment by preventing the RB from going outside. The Steelers are seen in this case in a 3-4 formation with Chickillo lined up well behind the line in 5-tech. From the snap, the Bears offensive linemen run a zone blocking scheme, and Chickillo rushes the D-gap. Ideally in this case, Chickillo should have been able to stand his ground and keep containment. Instead he was washed away from the play by the Bears tight end, leaving a wide open gap for Bears running back Howard to run. This was one of many occasions where Chickillo was unable to set the edge, resulting in several big gains on his side.
Constant movement by the Bears offensive line
A big part of what made the Bears ground attack so effective, was the constant movement by the Bears’ offensive line. The two common techniques utilized by the Bears’ offensive line to open holes for their running backs involved zone blocking schemes and guard pull.
In this sequence, the Bears’ left tackle converges on Steelers’ defensive end LT Walton and is able to veer him inside. In the same instance, Steelers’ linebacker Ryan Shazier’s attempt to shoot the B-gap is stymied from the Bears pulling guard coming from the left side. The succession of blocks by the Bears’ offensive line create a big enough gap for Howard to rush through and gain a considerable amount of yards, almost leading to a touchdown.
What is noticeable about this play is the manner in which the Bears’ offensive line was easily able to dictate the direction of the Steelers’ defensive front; this would be also become a common theme in this game.
Tarik Cohen’s OT Run
The play that best encapsulated the dominance of the Bears’ offensive line over the Steelers’ defensive front in this game came in overtime. Most of the deficiencies noted in the first two clips were well represented in this run by Cohen, which eventually led to the game winning touchdown by the Bears.
From the snap, the Bears’ offensive line is able to veer the entire front to the left side, creating a misdirection effect. Notably in this play, Steelers’ outside linebacker Bud Dupree is washed inside by the Bears tackle; thus unable to set the edge. Steelers’ cornerback Joe Haden is unable to make the tackle, as he is veered to the inside by the Bears’ running back. The rest of the play is an exhibition of missed tackles and superb cutting ability by Cohen. Luckily for the Steelers’ defense, Cohen had stepped out of bounds around the 35 yard line, but the damage had been done.
There can be no excuses made for such a performance by the Steelers’ run defense. Taking into consideration that they only allowed 101 yards in the air, it only makes the result of this game even more confusing. Yet the Steelers have a good track record in redeeming themselves after an embarrassing loss, and with the potential return of defensive end Stephon Tuitt and outside linebacker TJ Watt, the Steelers’ run defense will likely get the boost they need to redeem themselves against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.