No team is running the football more poorly in 2013 than the Pittsburgh Steelers, traditionally one of the best and most committed running teams in the NFL. This season the Pittsburgh rushing offense is averaging 37.5 points per game. Thirty-three individual players are averaging more, including the likes of Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith (38.0).
The Bears are allowing fewer rushing yards per game (93) than they did last season (101.7) and giving up just 3.4 yards per carry through their two games. Steelers running backs have netted just 70 rushing yards in 27 attempts this season.
The problem was looming in 2012 when the Steelers slumped to 96.1 rush yards per game. Look for Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin to make a change.
The Steelers acquired veteran Felix Jones during preseason and with starter Le’Veon Bell down with a foot injury, Jones carried 10 times for 37 yards against Cincinnati last Monday night. Tomlin has never sat still with a problem before and he wants a jolt to the sagging mindset of his 0-2 team.
“I liked [Jones’] demeanor,” Tomlin said. “I liked his approach to it. Obviously his run skills are his run skills. I think he’s a capable runner. To this point as we get to know him we’ve been encouraged by his game-day demeanor and the manner in which he plays the game. All of it are assets. I think he’s an energy-bringer, as opposed to an energy-drainer. We’re looking forward to seeing more from him.”
With run “fits” crucial to stopping the run, particularly with the Steelers’ anticipated switch to more zone blocking up front, the Bears are looking forward to seeing more of linebackers James Anderson and Lance Briggs especially. Anderson and Briggs have been the Bears’ two highest-rated defensive players through two games, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and neither has been off the field for a single snap thus far (124).
If there is a question, it has been D.J. Williams in the middle. Williams missed all of preseason with a severe calf injury suffered early in training camp and, like defensive tackle Henry Melton and end Julius Peppers, has not rounded into previous form.
Williams is a linchpin of the run defense, regardless of whether it is Jones or whomever, and the Steelers are hopeful of having Pro Bowl tight end and team MVP Heath Miller back from knee surgery for his first game.
“It’s always a learning process,” said Williams, still working his way into the defense at the game-day level. “Every week, you’re learning something different. You’re going against a new opponent, different run schemes, we might tweak something on our defense.”