After the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed 171 yards rushing in a 29-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, head coach Mike Tomlin pointed to the team’s run defense as being perhaps the biggest reason for the defeat.
“I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage, particularly in the second half,” Tomlin said, according to Steelers.com. “If you can’t slow down (Nick) Chubb, you can’t beat this group,” he added, referring to Cleveland’s Pro Bowl running back and a run defense that has, at times, looked “as bad as it did in 2021,” when it allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per carry.
That helps explain why Curt Popejoy of USA Today’s Steelers Wire suggests that the Steelers sign one of a handful of free agent defensive tackles, including former Giants 2nd-round pick Linval Joseph.
Nose Tackle Linval Joseph
The top name on Popejoy’s list is 2-time Pro Bowler Linval Joseph, who entered the league in 2010 out of East Carolina. He spent the first four years of his career in New York, winning a Super Bowl before joining the Vikings in 2014, where he played six seasons and made the Pro Bowl in both 2016 and 2017. He spent the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, making 16 starts in 2020 and 12 more in 2021.
In fact, availability has never been a problem for Joseph, who has started at least 12 games for each of the last 11 seasons. That explains why he has been able to amass 644 career tackles (379 solo), including 56 tackles for loss, 25 sacks, 75 quarterback hits, eight forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries, as per Pro Football Reference. That includes the 57 tackles and a sack he had with the Chargers last season.
Former Jets 1st-Round Pick Sheldon Richardson, For Another
If the Steelers want someone a little younger than the 33-year-old Joseph, another option is former No. 13 overall pick Sheldon Richardson, 31, who was suggested to the Steelers this summer. Richardson was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (New York Jets) and has played for four different teams, including the Vikings in 2021.
He’s coming off a season in which he appeared in all 17 games for Minnesota (with seven starts), earning a 62.1 grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) while recording 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits.
Much like Joseph, availability has never been a problem for Richardson, who started at least 11 games in the first ten years of his NFL career, during which he won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2014.
Ex-Patriots 1st-Round Pick Malcom Brown is Also Available
Finally, if the Steelers want someone younger still, the team could pursue former Patriots 1st-round pick Malcom Brown, 28, who was drafted No. 32 overall in 2015 out of Texas, the same school that produced former Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Brown is coming off a season in which he made 17 starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars. On paper, Brown was as productive as ever in 2021, having recorded 57 total tackles and two sacks, though his PFF grade plunged to 43.2, a year after he produced a 72.9 grade for the New Orleans Saints.
Will Mike Tomlin Be Patient With the Run Defense?
It should be interesting to see whether the Steelers look outside to add to their defensive line group, which lost Stephon Tuitt to retirement in the offseason and has seen 35-year-old Tyson Alualu struggle to come back from the broken ankle he suffered early in the 2021 season. Keep in mind that the Steelers signed defensive tackle Montravius Adams in November of last year and immediately included him in the defensive line rotation.
On the other hand, Mike Tomlin also might elect to be patient, as one can argue that the run defense is simply suffering from overuse — the result of playing 3 games in 11 days, including a Week 1 overtime win that went the distance. Never mind the fact that the offense hasn’t come close to winning the time of possession battle in any game this season. Stay tuned.