The Cincinnati Bengals may have gotten their season off to a hot start, going 6-0 in their first six games, but that is not to say that they are unbeatable. Their schedule has not been altogether daunting, and that total has included some improbably come-from-behind performances to boot.
The Bengals indeed are beatable, though it will not be easy, in order to maximize the chances of coming out on top, the first team to down them in a game will likely be the one that best exploits their weaknesses, and right now one of their biggest weaknesses during this season has been their run defense.
While they only rank in the middle of the back in terms of total rushing yards allowed, they have been terrible when you break it down to a per-play basis. The Bengals defense ranks 30th in the league in the yards per carry allowed statistic, surrendering 4.9 yards per carry on the ground.
The Pittsburgh Steelers just so happen to have the best running back in the league who is feeling the groove on the ground right now, averaging better than 100 rushing yards per game in the five games he has played this season.
Bell has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in three of the four previous games, including this past Sunday, during which he put up a 17-carry, 121-yard performance that included a season-long 42-yard run.
The Bengals have been fortunate that more teams have not taken the opportunity to exploit their run defense, having faced just 135 total runs on the season, which ranks as the second-fewest in the league, though many teams have still not had their Bye. Their 22.5 rushing attempts faced per game is the third-least in the league.
A major component of this comparatively small number of runs is the fact that, as an undefeated team, they have had everybody playing from behind at some point or another in every game, which dictates more passing plays. The Falcons, for example, have faced the second-fewest rushes per game.
While they have given up only three rushing touchdowns on the season—about league average—they have given up seven explosive plays on the ground, which is fifth-most in the league, and the top three teams in that category have faced a significantly higher number of attempts.
Le’Veon Bell just so happens to have had more explosive runs than any running back in the league this season, posting eight runs of at least 20 yards in a five-game span. He saw found great success on the ground against this team last season in their first meeting. One figures that there’s a good chance he breaks off a big run or two on Sunday.
It would be a wise strategy to try to make that happen in order to help ease Ben Roethlisberger back into the swing of things, especially given the fact that he will be working with a new, inexperienced left tackle. The Bengals’ pass rush has gone from among the worst to among the best in the course of an offseason, as well. The ground game may be what the doctor ordered.