Notebook: Run Defense Near Impenetrable

Publisher Jim Wexell's mid-week Steelers notebook with items on goal line defense, two-point conversions, Jarvis Jones and more.

Two years after allowing 18 rushing touchdowns -- including six in two consecutive games -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' run defense has a chance to set a franchise record currently held by the great Steelers defenses of 2010, 2001, 1997 and 1976.

Yes, 1976.

Those defenses allowed five rushing touchdowns in a season.

This Steelers defense so far has allowed only four.

Pretty impressive, huh?

"No," said James Harrison. "I don't have time to look at stats, man. We've got to get wins."

OK, but the much-improved run defense has helped lead to seven wins so far. And upon closer inspection, the Steelers have been near impenetrable down close.

Of the four rushing touchdowns allowed, one was a 9-yard reverse by Baltimore Ravens receiver Michael Campanaro and another was a 19-yard surprise by Oakland Raiders fullback Jamize Olawale. The two others were 1-yard blasts up the middle by Kansas City's Charcandrick West and Seattle's Thomas Rawls, and both were scored against the Steelers' nickel package.

"None of those were scored on us in our goal-line package," said Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon. "The only score we've allowed in our goal-line package was in the first game, New England, and they threw the ball."

The Steelers, in any package, have been a bear to run against inside the 5-yard line, where they've allowed only those two 1-yard scores in 15 rushing attempts.

Is there a favorite goal-line stand?

"That would probably have to be San Francisco," McLendon said of a team that had a third-and-1 at the 3, converted the first down with two plays, and was then stopped on four additonal plays. They later had second-and-goal at the 3 and were stopped on three plays.

The Steelers also stopped the Cleveland Browns with two different goal-line stands that began at the 1 and the 5.

Why so effective this season?

"Steve's on the field," said Cam Heyward, McLendon's next-door neighbor in the locker room. "When he's on the field he takes it very personal. To have a guy like that in the middle, they're not going anywhere. It makes my job a lot easier."

"Go ahead and talk me up to a new contract, Cam," McLendon said with a smile.

"It's true. He makes my job a lot easier," said Heyward. "I don't have to cover a lot of ground because I know it's going to stop with Steve."

Jarvis Jones, whose interception stymied the Indianapolis Colts in an early stand last week, offered an additional explanation.

"A lot of those plays and formations people run down there, we see almost on a daily basis," said the outside linebacker. "We practice those two-point conversions every day, and our offense is really good."


The Steelers' two-point conversion in the second quarter Sunday against Indianapolis set a new NFL record for seven two-point conversions in one season.

The Steelers are 7-for-10 this season after H-back Will Johnson caught Ben Roethlisberger's pass to give the Steelers a 14-10 lead.

"Seven? Really? That's pretty big right there," said Johnson, who explained that he wasn't the primary receiver on what is politely referred to as an "oh crap" play.

"It was a play where we were trying to get Matt Spaeth across the field," Johnson said. "So we're selling everything this way and Matt was sneaking out the other way and I just came open. When Ben rolled out he saw me wide open. He did't wait for it at all. He had me right in the back of the end zone."

It was just another play from the vast store of two-point conversions the Steelers have stockpiled since working on them every day since spring practice.

"We keep a tight menu each week but we have a ton of them," Johnson said. "It's something that benefits both sides of the ball."


The linebacker showed great hands in dropping into coverage to pick off Matt Hasselbeck following the Jacoby Jones fumble on the opening kickoff Sunday night.

"I just stayed at home like my coaches were asking me to do all week and they threw it right to me," said Jarvis Jones. "It wasn't anything special."

But Jones did have to go up the ladder to snare the pass. Has he ever played tight end?

"Yeah," Jones said. "I got my first offer in high school at tight end from the University of Clemson. I played tight end and receiver in high school, then I moved to linebacker my junior year in high school."

Might a move to goal-line tight end -- a la Mike Vrabel and J.J. Watt -- be in the cards?

"I won't get that opportunity here," Jones said with a chuckle. "That won't happen."


Martavis Bryant said he got a chance to talk with Colts tight end and former Clemson teammate Dwayne Allen before the game. He said they take great pride in their professional accomplishments along with those of other blossoming NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington. They all played on Clemson's 2011 team.

"We've got a lot of people in the league, and not all on offense," Bryant said as he included Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland. "I'm so proud of those guys, especially me and Bashaud. Coach (Dabo) Swinney told us we weren't ready tor the NFL and all this and that. But we felt once we got the opportunity we would take advantage of that. We've just been doing that."

Of course, Clemson is currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 and will play favored Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

"I'm happy for what they're doing right now but at the same time I'm not in college no more," Bryant said. "Still, if they make it to the national champinship game I definitely will be there supporting them."

Swinney made his way into the news last weekend with his over-the-top berating of the Clemson punter, who took off on a fake punt that wasn't called. He was tackled short of the first down and Swinney screamed at him much of the remainder of the half and then mocked him during a halftime TV interview.

"Just gotta be smart," Bryant said. "If you mess up at crunch time, we know how Coach Swinney is. He's going to let you know what you did wrong and why you aren't supposed to do that, and he wasn't supposed to do that."


The Steelers have scored 30 points or more in four consecutive games for the first time in a single season in team history.

Roethlisberger has passed for 300 or more yards in each of the last four games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Antonio Brown is second in the NFL with 93 receptions and 1,310 yards. Bryant leads the AFC with 20.1 yards per reception. Markus Wheaton is third in the AFC with 18.7 yards per reception.

All of those numbers might just be based in the fact Roethlisberger's not afraid to throw deep on third-and-short.

"I think I’ve always had that mentality," said Roethlisberger. "And I think Bruce Arians had that mentality. And it’s rolled over with Coach (Todd) Haley because of the personnel we have."

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