The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the least successful teams in the league running the ball. Yet they have found success running the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers in both of their meetings. They consistently gashed the defense in particularly on Monday night in an effort that I find more concerning than even the 200-yard games.
On 22 total runs on the night, the Bengals ran 14 successful plays, a success rate of 64 percent. That’s not too far from double the success rate you would like to see your defense allow against an opposing offense.
Both Joe Mixon and then Giovanni Bernard had their opportunities to gash the Steelers’ front seven, which even in the absence of Ryan Shazier had no business performing as poorly in this department as they did.
Just five of the Bengals running plays gained fewer than four yards, with only one run of negative yardage, that a loss of one yard. Four runs when for 10 or more yards, while another five picked up at least eight yards, and another two went for seven. So exactly half of their carries went for seven or more yards.
This sort of success from down to down is something that I find more concerning than the occasional big running play allowed. The Steelers did not allow a run of longer than 13 yards, but they didn’t need to in order to find success. Well, they did lose, I suppose, but I digress…
Complicating matters for the Bengals was the fact that Mixon was injured during the second quarter. They essentially only had Bernard left to work with for more than half of the game, and he is not your prototypical featured runner. He is also coming off of a torn ACL, so they were probably more cautious.
Given the success that they had running, however, they frankly should have done more of it, because the Steelers were not prepared to stop it. The front seven routinely allowed penetration to the second and third level, allowing the linebackers to be blocked at the second level with bothersome frequency.
They even managed to convert a third and three with a seven-yard run. The Steelers may have ‘only’ allowed 130 yards on the ground on 22 carries, but, at nearly six yards per clip, the Bengals could have done a lot more damage if they were committed to it.
Fortunately for the Steelers, certain circumstances—namely being shorthanded at the position—made running the ball more frequently a difficult ask, and so they didn’t. Andy Dalton did not even average much more per dropback, just a bit over 6.1 yards per, than they got on the ground.
I don’t know how much of this ugly showing could be attributed to the shocking loss of Shazier, and then the subsequent injury to Tyler Matakevich as well, but they cannot afford to repeat the failures in this area that we saw during that game. Both the Ravens and Patriots would gladly exploit those weaknesses.