McLendon on a mission to stop the run

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
10:45
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have given up almost 200 rushing yards in each of their past two games. They are No. 31 in the NFL in rushing defense, and Steve McLendon takes the Steelers' struggles in a part of the game they have traditionally owned personally.

“If you don't take it personal,” McLendon said, “what are you doing here?”

The disgust McLendon expressed over the way teams have run on the Steelers explains why he doesn't care who plays quarterback for Buffalo on Sunday though all signs point to rookie EJ Manuel returning to the starting lineup.

“I'm not really thinking about throwing,” McLendon said. “We gave up 55 points (at New England). People was running the ball on us. That's what we've got to worry about, stopping the run.”

That will be one of the keys to the Steelers beating the Bills.

Buffalo is averaging 145.8 rushing yards per game, second in the AFC, behind the explosive C.J. Spiller and the underrated Fred Jackson.

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons described Spiller as a “home-run hitter” and said Jackson will also challenge the Steelers' run defense.

“Jackson has those capabilities too but he's more of an in-between-the-tackles guy,” Timmons, the Steelers' leading tackler, said. “He's a balanced back and has good contact balance, too.”

“One's just a little faster than the other,” McLendon said. “They both can execute the same plays. We have to go out and just execute our game plan.”

The Steelers haven't done that nearly enough when it comes to stopping the run, and Dick LeBeau's defense is predicated on forcing teams into second- and third-and-long.

No player was more responsible for the Steelers' dominance in run defense over the last decade than Casey Hampton.

The mammoth nose tackle proved to be immovable from the middle of the line, and Hampton made five Pro Bowls while clogging running lanes and freeing up linebackers behind him to swallow up opposing running backs.

The Steelers opted to go with McLendon at nose tackle instead of re-signing Hampton, and he is well aware of the expectations that come with replacing the player affectionately known as “Big Snack.”

“You look at Casey, you look at Chris Hoke. Both of those guys did an excellent job of stopping the run, especially Casey,” McLendon said. “They didn't let anybody score 55 points on them. I've got to go out here and play better, play harder, play faster, play smarter.”

McLendon doesn't just take the Steelers' struggles in stopping the run personally. Like his teammates, he shakes his head at criticism of LeBeau.

“The way we can shut that up is to go out here and execute the game plan,” McLendon said. “Show that everything we do here does work.”

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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