In our "Ups & Downs" update from after Sunday's game, we put the run defense in the down category as the Steelers rung up 181 yards on 32 carries (5.7 avg.). Yet a closer look at the performance indicates it wasn't as poor as the final numbers might indicate.
The Steelers had 33 of those yards on their second to last drive, when the Patriots were playing with a "lighter" package of two defensive linemen, three linebackers and six defensive backs. The Steelers added 20 more yards on their final drive. Furthermore, of the 32 Steeler rushes, 13 of them went for three yards or less, indicating that the Patriots were winning their fair share of battles in the run game.
So while the performance wasn't air tight, the total numbers were a bit misleading.
There were three clear breakdowns in the running game:
A 9-yard run up the middle in the first quarter that was similar to a play the Ravens ran, as a receiver came around the end, sucking safety Rodney Harrison in as if there was going to be an end-around. But the handoff came up the middle for a 9-yard gain by Willie Parker. Overpursuit hurt the Patriots on the play.
The Steelers had a 30-yard run over right tackle in the second quarter. The play was run in the direction of DL Ty Warren and OLB Mike Vrabel, with a gap opening between the two as Warren lunged inside. LB Tedy Bruschi attempted to fill in but was blocked by RG Kendall Simmons and Parker ran through untouched.
On the first play of the second half, Parker rushed for a 19-yard gain over the left side of the line. The play was run in the direction of DL Richard Seymour and OLB Adalius Thomas and came well outside -- to the numbers on the field. Thomas was doubled and Seymour could not shed his block. The "stretch" nature of the play required LB Junior Seau to move laterally to fill in the space between Seymour and Thomas but he was blocked by LG Alan Faneca, while S Rodney Harrison was blocked by WR Santonio Holmes. That opened space for Parker to run free. That Seymour could not shed the single block appears to be a reflection that he is not playing at his past Pro Bowl level, as he usually eats up single blocks.