2016 South Side Questions: Can Defense Continue Success Against The Run?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Will the Steelers continue the display their improved run defense against the Bengals?

Over the course of the Steelers’ winning streak, one of the most significant developments has been the defense’s ability to control the opposition’s running game. While they have gone up against some less than stellar rushing offenses, last weeks’ shutting down of the Bills’ top rushing attack was very notable.

The Bengals have had a hot and cold running game throughout the season. Against the Eagles two weeks ago, it was cold, with Jeremy Hill gaining just 33 yards on 23 carries. On Sunday, he rushed for 111 yards on 25 carries, although he had a touchdown in both games.

Cincinnati also picked up 45 yards on the ground from Rex Burkhead, and Tyler Boyd added a 39-yard run of his own. As a team, the Bengals put up over 200 yards on the ground against the Browns on Sunday, registering no rushes for a loss.

One thing the Steelers won’t have to worry about is Giovani Bernard, who is on injured reserve after he suffered a torn ACL. The former second-round pick did most of his damage against Pittsburgh in the second game of the season burning them on the perimeter using screen passes.

Hill is not that sort of running back, fortunately, and should be easier to contain, given that he is more one-dimensional and largely a downhill runner. Still, maintaining gap integrity will be crucial, and rookie Javon Hargrave may be rusty coming off of a concussion that caused him to miss the last game.

The Bengals are likely going to be without A.J. Green, which will make the running game all the more important. They only attempted 28 passes against the Browns in their last game. The Steelers knew on Sunday that they would have an opponent that was aiming to run the ball, and were able to successfully throttle their running game. They will be looking to continue their newfound success on the ground tomorrow.

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