Updated: Oct 23, 2020
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The Steelers' defense this year has reminded people of past defenses that have played in the Steel City -- the Steel Curtain of the 1970s, Blitzburgh of the mid-1990s and the defenses led by James Harrison and Troy Polamalu in the late-2000s. They are getting after the quarterback and smashing the run. In five games, no team has more than the Steelers' 24 sacks and they rank No. 2 in run defense, allowing just 66.2 yards per game.
The Steelers will meet the also undefeated 5-0 Titans on Sunday. The Titans are lead by 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back Derrick Henry, who in five games played this year leads the league in rushing with 588 yards and is second in rushing touchdowns with six. Henry is coming off a game against the Texans on Sunday where he rushed for 212 yards on 22 carries (9.6 average) and two touchdowns, along with having two receptions for 52 yards. Henry broke off a 94-yard touchdown run against Houston, which made him the second player in NFL history with two touchdown runs of at least 94 yards.
With the Titans old school, smashmouth rushing attack and the Steelers' stout run defense, it will be a battle of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object on Sunday in Nashville.
"That is their bread and butter," Stephon Tuitt said today in a Zoom interview with the media. "They got a great back in Henry, and we have to make sure we limit him and stop him.
"They do a good job of running the ball. They have a great back who is putting up prolific numbers. They are very physical. Old school football. It's the type of game when you have to buckle your chin strap and come prepared and bring physicality to them."
It's imperative that the Steelers at least contain Henry and don't let the Titans get the run game going, as Ryan Tannehill has been on efficient on play-action passes since surpassing Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback in Tennessee last year. According to Turron Davenport of ESPN, Tannehill has a 92.1 QBR and 12.2 yards per attempt on play-action, leading all quarterbacks since he took over as the starter in Week 7 last year. Tannehill also has 15 touchdown passes off play-action in that span, which ties Kirk Cousins for most in the league.
"Along with that success in running, it's causing Tannehill to have success passing because they run a lot of their boots off it as well," Tuitt said. "If we can stop one aspect, we will be able to stop the other.
"He is having a good time. They are winning. He is making great passes. They are doing great reads. He got a good back. You can tell he is having a general good time and he is on a good team. You can see him radiating that success because of that. It's going to be our job to go there and separate them from the flow they have been doing and have a great defensive performance game down there."
Dating back to 2019, the Steelers rank first in the NFL in run stop win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In that same span, Henry has an NFL-best 923 yards after contact. The Steelers' defense faces a huge test in stopping Henry, as he's without a doubt the No. 1 running back in the NFL. He will be the toughest challenge they have faced thus far this season. On the flip side, Henry hasn't seen a defense like the one the Steelers possess. One way or another, one side will impose their will against the other in Nashville on Sunday.