As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers for Sunday’s regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
X Factor: Run Defense
I like to place the focus on just one person for these articles but you know run defense is an 11 man job. Hard to pin it down on just one dude. The Cincinnati Bengals are a bit of a mess right now but offensively, they still have enough of an identity. It’s through the run game, led by the ultra talented Joe Mixon. Despite missing parts of the season, he’s still near the top in big play runs.
Rarely does he leave the field and they’ll lean on him when the game is competitive. He has 25+ carries in two of his last three games, the only exception coming against the Cleveland Browns where Cincinnati dug themselves a big hole.
The Steelers left side of the line, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, and even Javon Hargrave at the nose have favorable matchups. For the Bengals, there’s quality in LT Cordy Glenn and LG Clint Boling but the rest of it is sort of a mess. Billy Price, Alex Redmond, Bobby Hart…yikes.
It’s an obvious statement to make but when you have a Steelers team so clearly better than their opponent, the obvious will suffice. Stop the run, force the Bengals into third and long, and make Jeff Driskel with an underwhelming cast of characters – no A.J. Green, no Tyler Boyd, no…Tyler Eifert – beat you. Simple as that. The Steelers defense can win.
Because ideally, you want to keep this Bengals team out of the end zone. For whatever weird reason, Cincinnati is scary good in the red zone at 72%. Only the Steelers are better. Even with Driskel under center, this unit hasn’t seemed to fade too much. Maybe it’s a lack of opportunity. Regardless, I don’t want to find out. This if an offense you can keep pinned back all game, forcing punter Kevin Huber to stay busy, and run up an early lead to make the Bengals throw. That’s a recipe for a win though as we know, Pittsburgh rarely makes it easy.